Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 10, September 1836, 2:???-???


[page 662, column 2:]

Sheppard Lee: written by himself. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Like philothea, this novel is an original in American Belles Lettres at least; and these deviations, however indecisive, from the more beaten paths of imitation, look well for our future literary prospects. Thinking thus, we will be at the trouble of going though briefly, in detail, the plot and the adventures of Sheppard Lee.

The hero relates his own story. He is born “somewhere towards the close of the last century,” in the State of New Jersey, in one of the oldest counties that border upon the Delaware river. His father is a farmer in good circumstances, and famous for making good sausages for the Philadelphia market. He has ten children besides Sheppard. Nine of these die, however, in six years, by a variety of odd accidents — the last expiring in a fit of laughter at seeing his brother ridden to death by a pig. Prudence, the oldest sister, survives. The mother, mourning for her children, becomes melancholy and dies insane. Sheppard is sent to good schools, and afterwards to the College at Nassau Hall, in Princeton, where he remains three years, until his father's decease. Upon this occurrence he finds himself in possession of the bulk of the property; his sister Prudence, who had recently married, receiving only a small farm in a neighboring county. After making one or two efforts to become a man of business, our hero hires an overseer to undertake the entire management of his property.

Having now nothing to do, and time hanging heavily on his hands, Sheppard Lee tries many experiments by way of killing the enemy. He turns sportsman, but has the misfortune to shoot his dog the first day, and upon the second his neighbor's cow. He breeds horses and runs them, losing more money in a single hour than his father had ever made in two years together. At the suggestion of his overseer he travels, and is robbed of his baggage and money, by an intelligent gentlemanly [page 663:] personage from Sing-Sing. He thinks of matrimony, and is about coming to a proposal, when his inamorata, taking offence at his backwardness, casts her eyes upon another wooer, who has made her an offer, and marries him upon the spot.

Upon attaining his twenty-eighth year, Mr. Lee discovers his overseer, Mr. Aikin Jones, to be a rogue, and himself to be ruined. Prudence, the sister, tells our hero moreover, that he has lost all the little sense he ever possessed, while her husband is so kind as to inform him that “he is wrong in the upper story.” A quarrel ensues and Mr. Lee is left to bear his misfortunes alone.

In Chapter V, we have a minute description of the state of the writer's affairs at this epoch, and it must be owned that his little property of forty acres presented a sufficiently woe-begone appearance. One friend, however, remains steadfast, in the person of our hero's negro servant, Jim Jumble — an old fellow that had been the slave of his father and was left to him in the will. This is a crabbed, self-willed old rascal, who will have every thing his own way. Having some scruples of conscience about holding a slave, and thinking him of no value whatever, but, on the contrary, a great deal of trouble, our hero decides upon setting him free. The old fellow, however, bursts into a passion, swears he will not be free, that Mr. Lee is his master and shall take care of him, and that if he dares to set him free he will have the law of him, “he will by ge-hosh!”

At length, in spite of even the services of Jim Jumble, our hero is reduced to the point of despair. His necessities have compelled him to mortgage the few miserable acres left, and ruin stares him in the face. He attempts many ingenious devices with a view of amending his fortune — buys lottery tickets which prove all blanks — purchases stock in a southern gold mining company, is forced to sell out at a bad season, and finds himself with one-fifth the sum invested — gets a new coat, and makes a declaration to a rich widow in the neighborhood, who makes him the laughing stock of the country for his pains — and finally turns politician, choosing the strongest party, on the principle that the majority must always be right. Attending a public meeting he claps his hands and applauds the speeches with so much spirit, that he is noticed by some of the leaders. They encourage him to take a more prominent part in the business going on, and at the next opportunity he makes a speech. Being on the hurrah side he receives great applause, and indeed there is such a shouting and clapping that he is obliged to put an end to his discourse sooner than he had intended. He is advised to set about converting all in the neighborhood who are not of the right way of thinking, and the post office in the village is hinted at as his reward in case the county is gained. Mr. Lee sets about his task valiantly, paying his own expenses, and the hurrahs carry the day. His claim to the post-officeship is universally admitted, but, in some way or other, the appointment is bestowed upon one of the very leaders who had been foremost in commending the zeal and talents of our author, and in assuring him that the office should be his. Mr. Lee is enraged, and is upon the point of going over to the anti-hurrahs, when he is involved in a very remarkable tissue of adventure. Jim Jumble conceives that money has been buried by Captain Kid, in a certain ugly swamp, called the Owl-Roost, not many rods from an old church. The stories of the negro affect his master to such a degree that he dreams three nights in succession of finding a treasure at the foot of a beech-tree in the swamp. He resolves to dig for it in good earnest, choosing midnight, at the full of the moon, as the moment of commencing operations. On his way to the Owl-Roost at the proper time, he passes by the burial ground of the old church, and the wall having fallen down across his path, he strikes his ankle against a fragment — the pain causing him to utter a groan. To his amazement this interjection of suffering is echoed from the grave yard; a voice screaming out in awful tones, O Lord! O Lord! and, casting his eyes around, our hero beholds three or four shapes, whom he supposes to be devils incarnate, dancing about among the tomb-stones. The beech-tree, however, is finally reached in safety, and by dint of much labor a large hole excavated among the roots. But in his agitation of mind the adventurer plants an unlucky blow of the mattock among the toes of his right foot, and sinking down upon the grass, “falls straight-way into a trance.”

Upon recovering from this trance, Mr. Lee finds himself in a very singular predicament. He feels exceedingly light and buoyant, with the power of moving without exertion. He sweeps along without putting his feet to the ground, and passes among shrubs and bushes without experiencing from them any hindrance to his progress. In short, he finds himself to be nothing better than a ghost. His dead body is lying quietly beside the excavation under the beech-tree. Mr. Lee is entirely overcome with horror at his unfortunate condition, and runs, or rather flies, instinctively to the nearest hut for assistance. But the dogs, at his approach, run howling among the bushes, and the only answer he receives from the terrified family is the discharge of a blunderbuss in his face. Returning in despair to the beech-tree and the pit, he finds that his body has been taken away. Its disappearance throws him into a phrenzy, and he is about to run home and summon old Jim Jumble to the rescue, when he hears a dog yelping and whining in a peculiarly doleful manner, at some little distance down in the meadow. Coming to a place in the edge of the marsh where are some willow trees, and an old worm fence, he there discovers to his extreme surprise, the body of a certain well-to-do personage, Squire Higginson. He is lying against the fence, stone dead, with his head down, and his heels resting against the rails, and looking as if, while climbing, he had fallen down and broken his neck.

Our hero pities the condition of Mr. Higginson, but being only a ghost, has no capacity to render him assistance. In this dilemma he begins to moralize upon the condition of Mr. H. and of himself. The one has no body — the other no soul. “Why might not I” — says, very reasonably, the ghost of Mr. Lee, “Why might not I — that is to say my spirit — deprived by an unhappy accident of its natural dwelling — take possession of a tenement which there remains no spirit to claim, and thus, uniting interests together, as two feeble factions unite together in the political world, become a body possess-ing life, strength, and usefulness? Oh, that I might be Squire Higginson!”

The words are scarcely out of his mouth, before our hero feels himself vanishing, as it were, into the dead man's nostrils, “into which his spirit rushes like a breeze,” and the next moment he finds himself John Hazlewood Higginson, Esquire, to all intents and purposes — kicking the fence to pieces in a lusty effort to rise upon his feet, and feeling as if he had just tumbled over it. We must here give a couple of pages in the words of the author.

“God be thanked,” I cried, dancing about as joyously as the dog, “I am now a respectable man with my pockets full of money. Farewell then, you poor miserable Sheppard Lee! you raggamuffin! you poor wretched shote! you half-starved old sand-field Jersey Kill-Deer! you vagabond! you beggar! you Dicky Dout! with the wrong place in your upper story! you are now a gentleman and a man of substance, and a happy dog into the bargain. Ha! ha! ha!” and here I fell a laughing out of pure joy; and giving my dog Ponto a buss, as if that were the most natural act in the world, and a customary way of showing my satisfaction, I began to stalk towards my old ruined house, without exactly knowing for what purpose, but having some vague idea about me, that I would set old Jim Jumble and his wife Dinah to shouting and dancing; an amusement I would willingly have seen the whole world engaged in at that moment.

I had not walked twenty yards, before a woodcock that was feeding on the edge of the marsh, started up from under my nose, when clapping my gun to my shoulder, I let fly at him, and down he came.

“Aha, Ponto,” said I, “when did I ever fail to bring down a woodcock? Bring it along, Ponto, you rascal — Rum-te, ti, ti! rum-te, ti, ti!” and I went on my way singing for pure joy, without pausing to recharge or to bag my game. I reached my old house, and began to roar out, without reflecting that I was now something more than Sheppard Lee, “Hillo! Jim Jumble, you old rascal! get up and let me in.”

“What you want, hah?” said old Jim, poking his head from the garret window of the kitchen, and looking as sour as a persimmon before frost. “Guess Massa Squire Higginson drunk, hah? What you want? Spose I’m gwyin to git up afo sunrise for notin, and for any body but my Massa Sheppard?”

“Why you old dog,” said I, in a passion, “I am your Master Sheppard; that is, your Master John Hazlewood Higginson, Esquire; for as for Sheppard Lee, the Jersey kill-deer, I’ve finished him, you rascal; you’ll never see him more. So get down and let me into the house, or I’ll”

“You will hah?” said Jim, “you will what?”

“I’ll shoot you, you insolent scoundrel!” I exclaimed in a rage — as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to be in one; and as I spoke I raised my piece; when “bow-wow-wow!” went my old dog Bull, who had not bitten a man for two years, but who now rushed from his kennel under the porch, and seized me by the leg.

“Get out Bull, you rascal,” said I, but he only bit the harder; which threw me into such a fury, that I clapped the muzzle of my gun to his side, and having one charge remaining, blew him to pieces.

“Golla-matty!” said old Jim, from the window, whence he had surveyed the combat; “golla-matty! — shoot old Bull!”

And with that the black villain snatched up the half of a brick, which I suppose he kept to daunt unwelcome visiters, and taking aim at me, he cast it so well as to bring it right against my left ear, and so tumbled me to the ground. I would have blown the rascal's brains out, in requital of this assault, had there been a charge left in my piece, or had he given me time to reload; but as soon as he had cast the brick, he ran from the window, and then reappeared, holding out an old musket, that I remembered he kept to shoot wild ducks and muskrats in the neighboring marsh with. Seeing this formidable weapon, and not knowing but that the desperado would fire upon me, I was forced to beat a retreat, which I did in double quick time, being soon joined by my dog Ponto, who had fled, like a coward, at the first bow-wow of the bull-dog, and saluted in my flight by the amiable tones of Dinah, who now thrust her head from the window, beside Jim's, and abused me as long as I could hear.

Our hero finds that in assuming the body of Squire Higginson, he has invested himself with a troublesome superfluity of fat — that he has moreover a touch of the asthma — together with a whizzing, humming, and spinning in the head. One day, while gunning, these infirmities prove more than usually inconvenient, and he is upon the point of retreating to the village to get his dinner, when a crowd of men make their appearance, and setting up a great shout, begin to run towards him at full speed. Hearing them utter furious cries, and perceiving a multitude of dogs in company, he is seized with alarm and makes for the woods. He is overtaken however, charged with the murder of Sheppard Lee, and committed by Justice Parkins — a mass of evidence appearing against him, among which that of Jim Jumble is not the least important, who swears that the prisoner came to his house, shot his bull-dog, threatened to blow his brains out, and bragged that he had “just finished Mr. Lee.”

In this dilemma our hero relates the whole truth to the prosecuting attorney, and is considered a madman for his pains. The body of Sheppard Lee, however, not appearing, the prisoner is set at liberty, and takes his way to Philadelphia in the charge of some new friends appertaining to him as John Hazlewood Higginson, Esquire. He finds himself a rich brewer, living in Chestnut Street, and the possessor of lands, houses, stocks, and Schuylkill coal-mines in abundance. He is troubled nevertheless with inveterate gout, and a shrew of a wife, and upon the whole he regrets his former existence as plain Sheppard Lee. Just opposite our brewer's residence is the dwelling of Mr. Periwinkle Smith, an aristocrat, wealthy or supposed to be so, although some rumors are abroad touching mortgages. He has an only daughter, and among her frequent visitors is one Isaac Dulmer Dawkins, Esq., a young dandy of the first water, tall, slim, whiskered, mustached, of pure blood, and living on his wits. This personage is often noted by our hero, upon his passage to and from the house of Mr. Smith. Suddenly his visits are discontinued — a circumstance which the brewer has soon an opportunity of explaining to his satisfaction. Going to the Schuylkill for the purpose of drowning himself, and thus putting an end at once to the gout and the assiduities of Mrs. Higginson, our hero is surprised at finding himself anticipated in his design by I. Dulmer Dawkins, Esq. who leaps into the river at the very spot selected for his own suicide. In his exertions to get Mr. D. out, he is seized with apoplexy — reviving partially from which, he discovers a crowd attempting to resuscitate the dandy.

“I could maintain,” says our hero, “my equanimity no longer. In the bitterness of my heart I muttered, almost aloud, and as sincerely as I ever muttered any thing in my life, ‘I would I were this addle-pate Dawkins, were it only to be lying as much like a drowned rat as he!’ I had not well grumbled the last word, before a sudden fire flashed before my eyes, a loud noise like the roar of falling water passed through my head, and I lost all sensation and consciousness.”

As I Dulmer Dawkins, our friend finds himself beset by the duns, whom he habitually puts off by suggestions respecting a rich uncle, of whose very existence he is sadly in doubt. Having ceased to pay attention to Miss Smith, upon hearing the rumors about the mortgages, it appears that he was jilted in turn by a Miss Betty Somebody, and thus threw himself into the river in despair. His adventures are now various and spirited, but his creditors grow importunate, and vow they will be put off no longer with the old story of the rich uncle, when an uncle, and a rich one, actually appears upon the tapis. He is an old vulgar fool, and I Dulmer Dawkins, Esquire, is in some doubts about the propriety of allowing his claim to relationship, but finally consents to introduce the old quiz, son and daughter, into fashionable society, upon considering the pecuniary advantages to himself. With this end he looks about for a house, and learns that the residence of Periwinkle Smith is for sale. Upon calling upon that gentleman however, he is treated very civilly indeed, being shown the door, after having sufficiently ascertained that the rumors about the mortgages should have been construed in favor of Mr. Smith — that he is a richer man than ever, and that his fair heiress is upon the point of marriage with a millionaire from Boston. He now turns his attention to his country cousin, Miss Patty Wilkins, upon finding that the uncle is to give her forty thousand dollars. At the same time, lest his designs in this quarter should fail, he makes an appointment to run off with the only daughter of a rich shaver, one Skinner. The uncle Wilkins has but little opinion of I Dulmer Dawkins, and will not harken to his suit at all. In this dilemma our hero resorts to a trick. He represents his bosom friend and ally, Mr. Tickle, as a man of fashion and property, and sets him to making love to Miss Patty, in the name of himself, I Dulmer. The uncle snaps at the bait, but the ally is instructed to proceed no farther without a definite settlement upon Miss Patty of the forty thousand dollars. The uncle makes the settlement and matters proceed to a crisis — Mr. Tickle pleasing himself with the idea of cheating his bosom friend I Dulmer, and marrying the lady himself. A farce of very pretty finesse now ensues, which terminates in Miss Patty's giving the slip to both lovers, bestowing her forty thousand dollars upon an old country sweetheart, Danny Baker, and in I Dulmer's finding, upon flying, as a dernier resort, to the broker's daughter, that she has already run away with Sammy, Miss Patty Wilkins’ clodhopper brother.

Driven to desperation by his duns, our hero escapes from them by dint of hard running and takes refuge, without asking permission, in the sick chamber of old Skinner, the shaver. Finding the old gentleman dead, he takes possession of his body forthwith, leaving his own carcase on the floor.

The adventures in the person of Abram Skinner are full of interest. We have many racy details of stock-jobbing and usury. Some passages, of a different nature are well written. The miser has two sons, and his parsimony reduces them to fearful extremity. The one involves him deeply by forgery; and the other first robs his strong box, and afterwards endeavors to murder him.

It may be supposed that the misery now weighing me to the earth was as much as could be imposed upon me; but I was destined to find before the night was over that misery is only comparative, and that there is no affliction so positively great, that greater may not be experienced. In the dead of the night, when my woes had at last been drowned in slumber, I was aroused by feeling a hand pressing upon my bosom; and starting up I saw, for there was a taper burning upon a table hard by, a man standing over me, holding a pillow in his hand, which, the moment I caught sight of him, he thrust into my face, and there endeavored to hold it, as if to suffocate me.

The horror of death endowed me with a strength not my own, and the ruffian held the pillow with a feeble and trembling arm. I dashed it aside, leaped up in the bed, and beheld in the countenance of the murderer the features of the long missing and abandoned son, Abbot Skinner.

His face was white and chalky, with livid stains around the eyes and mouth, the former of which were starting out of their orbits in a manner ghastly to behold, while his lips were drawn asunder and away from his teeth, as in the face of a mummy. He looked as if horror-struck at the act he was attempting; and yet there was something devilish and determined in his air that increased my terror to ecstacy! I sprang from the bed, threw myself on the floor, and, grasping his knees, besought him to spare my life. There seemed indeed occasion for all my supplications. His bloated and altered visage, the neglected appearance of his garments and person, and a thousand other signs, showed that the whole period of his absence had been passed in excessive toping, and the murderous and unnatural act which he meditated, manifested to what a pitch of phrenzy he had arrived by the indulgence.

As I grasped his knees, he put his hand into his bosom, and drew out a poniard, a weapon I had never before known him to carry; at the sight of which I considered myself a dead man. But the love of life still prevailing, I leaped up, and ran to a corner of the room, where I mingled adjurations and entreaties with loud screams for assistance. He stood as if rooted to the spot for a moment; then dropping his horrid weapon, he advanced a few paces, clasped his hands together, fell upon his knees, and burst into tears, and all the while without having uttered a single word. But now, my cries still continuing, he exclaimed, but with a most wild and disturbed look — “Father I won’t hurt you, and pray dont hurt me!”

Horrors such as these induce our hero to seek a new existence. Filling his pockets with money, he sets off in search of a corpse of which to take possession. At length, when nearly exhausted, a drunken fellow, apparently dead, is found lying under a shed. Transferring the money from his own person to that of the mendicant, he utters the usual wish, once, twice, thrice — and in vain. Horribly disconcerted, and dreading lest his charm should have actually deserted him, he begins to kick the dead man with all the energy he has left. At this treatment the corpse suddenly becomes animated, knocks our hero down with a whiskey jug, and makes off with the contents of his pockets, being a dozen silver spoons, and four hundred dollars in money. This accident introduces us to the acquaintance of a genuine philanthropist, Mr. Zachariah Longstraw, and this gentleman being at length murdered by a worthy ex-occupant of Sing-Sing, to whom he had been especially civil, our hero reanimates his body with excessive pleasure at his good fortune. The result is that he finds himself cheated on all sides, is arrested for debt, and is entrapped by a Yankee pedlar and carried off to the South as a tit-bit for the anti-abolitionists. On the route he ascertains (by accidently overhearing a conversation) that the missing body of Sheppard Lee, which disappeared in so mysterious a manner from the side of the pit at the Owl-Roost, was carried off by one Dr. Feuerteufel, a German, who happened to be in search of subjects for dissection, and whose assistants were the dancing spectres in the church yard, which so terribly disconcerted our hero when on his way to the beech-tree. He is finally about to be hung, when a negro who was busied in preparing the gallows, fortunately breaks his neck in a fall, and our adventurer takes possession of his body forthwith.

In his character of Nigger Tom, Mr. Lee gives us some very excellent chapters upon abolition and the exciting effects of incendiary pamphlets and pictures, among our slaves in the South. This part of the narrative closes with a spirited picture of a negro insurrection, and with the hanging of Nigger Tom.

Our hero is revived, after execution, by the galvanic battery of some medical students, and having, by his sudden display of life, frightened one of them to death, he immediately possesses himself of his person. As Mr. Arthur Megrim, he passes through a variety of adventures, and fancies himself a coffee-pot, a puppy, a chicken, a loaded cannon, a clock, a hamper of crockery ware, a joint stock, a Greek Demi-God and the Emperor of France. Dr. Feuerteufel now arrives in the village with a cargo of curiosities for exhibition — among which are some mummies. In one of them our hero recognizes the identical long missed body of Sheppard Lee.

The sight of my body thus restored to me, and in the midst of my sorrow and affliction, inviting me back, as it were, to my proper home, threw me into an indescribable ferment. I stretched out my arms, I uttered a cry, and then rushing forward, to the astonishment of all present, I struck my foot against the glass case with a fury that shivered it to atoms or at least the portion of it serving as a door, which, being dislodged by the violence of the blow, fell upon the floor and was dashed to pieces. The next instant, disregarding the cries of surprise and fear which the act occasioned, I seized upon the cold and rigid hand of the mummy, murmuring “Let me live again in my own body, and never — no! never more in another's!” Happiness of happiness! although, while I uttered the word, a boding fear was on my mind, lest the long period the body had remained inanimate, and more especially the mummifying process to which it had been subjected, might have rendered it unfit for further habitation, I had scarcely breathed the wish before I found myself in that very body, descending from the box which had so long been its prison, and stepping over the mortal frame of Mr. Arthur Megrim, now lying dead on the floor.

Indescribable was the terror produced among the spectators by this double catastrophe — the death of their townsman, and the revival of the mummy. The women fell down in fits, and the men took to their heels; and a little boy who was frightened into a paroxysm of devotion, dropped on his knees, and began fervently to exclaim

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

In short, the agitation was truly inexpressible, and fear distracted all. But on no countenance was this passion (mingled with a degree of amazement) more strikingly depicted than on that of the German Doctor, who, thus compelled to witness the object of a thousand cares, the greatest and most perfect result of his wonderful discovery, slipping off its pedestal and out of his hands, as by a stroke of enchantment, stared upon me with eyes, nose and mouth, speechless, rooted to the floor, and apparently converted into a mummy himself. As I stepped past him, however, hurrying to the door, with a vague idea that the sooner I reached it the better, his lips were unlocked, and his feelings found vent in a horrible exclamation — “Der tyfel!” which I believe means the devil — “Der tyfel! I have empalm him too well!”

Sheppard Lee now makes his way home into New Jersey (pursued however the whole way by the German Doctor, crying “Mein Gott! Ter Tyfel! and stop mine mummy!”) and is put to bed and kindly nursed after his disaster by his sister Prudence and her husband. It now appears (very ingeniously indeed) that, harassed by his pecuniary distress, our hero fell into a melancholy derangement, and upon cutting his foot with the mattock, as related, was confined to bed, where his wonderful transmigrations were merely the result of delirium. At least this is the turn given to the whole story by Prudence. Mr. Lee, however, although he partially believes her in the right, has still a shadow of doubt upon the subject, and has thought it better to make public his own version of the matter, with a view of letting every body decide for himself.

We must regard “Sheppard Lee,” upon the whole, as a very clever, and not altogether unoriginal, jeu d’esprit. Its incidents are well conceived, and related with force, brevity, and a species of directness which is invaluable in certain cases of narration — while in others it should be avoided. The language is exceedingly unaffected and (what we regard as high praise) exceedingly well adapted to the varying subjects. Some fault may be found with the conception of the metempsychosis which is the basis of the narrative. There are two general methods of telling stories such as this. One of these methods is that adopted by the author of Sheppard Lee. He conceives his hero endowed with some idiosyncracy beyond the common lot of human nature, and thus introduces him to a series of adventures which, under ordinary circumstances, could occur only to a plurality of persons. The chief source of interest in such narrative is, or should be, the contrasting of these varied events, in their influence upon a character unchanging — except as changed by the events themselves. This fruitful field of interest, however, is neglected in the novel before us, where the hero, very awkwardly, partially loses, and partially does not lose, his identity, at each transmigration. The sole object here in the various metempsychoses seem to be, merely the depicting of seven different conditions of existence, and the enforcement of the very doubtful moral that every person should remain contented with his own. But it is clear that both these points could have been more forcibly shown, without any reference to a confused and jarring system of transmigration, by the mere narrations of seven different individuals. All deviations, especially wide ones, from nature, should be justified to the author by some specific object — the object, in the present case, might have been found, as above-mentioned, in the opportunity afforded of depicting widely-different conditions of existence actuating one individual.

A second peculiarity of the species of novel to which Sheppard Lee belongs, and a peculiarity which is not rejected by the author, is the treating the whole narrative in a jocular manner throughout (inasmuch as to say “I know I am writing nonsense, but then you must excuse me for the very reason that I know it”) or the solution of the various absurdities by means of a dream, or something similar. The latter method is adopted in the present instance — and the idea is managed with unusual ingenuity. Still — having read through the whole book, and having been worried to death with incongruities (allowing such to exist) until the concluding page, it is certainly little indemnification for our sufferings to learn that, in truth, the whole matter was a dream, and that we were very wrong in being worried about it at all. The damage is done, and the apology does not remedy the grievance. For this and other reasons, we are led to prefer, in this kind of writing, the second general method to which we have alluded. It consists in a variety of points — principally in avoiding, as may easily be done, that directness of expression which we have noticed in Sheppard Lee, and thus leaving much to the imagination — in writing as if the author were firmly impressed with the truth, yet astonished at the immensity, of the wonders he relates, and for which, professedly, he neither claims nor anticipates credence — in minuteness of detail, especially upon points which have no immediate bearing upon the general story — this minuteness not being at variance with indirectness of expression — in short, by making use of the infinity of arts which give verisimilitude to a narration — and by leaving the result as a wonder not to be accounted for. It will be found that bizzarreries thus conducted, are usually far more effective than those otherwise managed. The attention of the author, who does not depend upon explaining away his incredibilities, is directed to giving them the character and the luminousness of truth, and thus are brought about, unwittingly, some of the most vivid creations of human intellect. The reader, too, readily perceives and falls in with the writer's humor, and suffers himself to be borne on thereby. On the other hand what difficulty, or inconvenience, or danger can there be in leaving us uninformed of the important facts that a certain hero did not actually discover the elixir vitæ, could not really make himself invisible, and was not either a ghost in good earnest, or a bonâ fide Wandering Jew?





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