Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 3, April 1836, 2:???-???


[page 393, column 2, continued:]

BRUNNENS OF NASSAU. Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau. By an Old Man. .New York: Harper and Brothers.

This “old man” is the present Governor of Canada, and a very amusing “old man” is he. A review of his work, which appeared a year ago in the North American, first incited us to read it, a pleasure which necessity has compelled us to forego until the present time — there not having been an American edition put to press until now, and the splendid hot-pressed, calf-bound, gilt edged edition from Albemarle-street being too costly for very general circulation here.

The “bubbles” are blown into being by a gentle man who represents himself as having been sentenced, in the cold evening of his life, to drink the mineral waters of Nassau; and who, upon arriving at the springs, found that, in order to effect the cure designed by his physicians, the mind was to be relaxed as the body was being strengthened. The result of this regimen was the production of “The Bubbles,” or hasty sketches of whatever chanced for the moment to please either the eyes or the mind of the patient. He anticipates the critic's verdict as to his book — that it is empty, light, vain, hollow and superficial: “but then,” says he, “it is the nature of ’bubbles’ to be so.”

He describes his voyage from the Custom House Stairs in the Thames, by steamboat to Rotterdam, and thence his journey to the Nassau springs of Langen-Schwalbach, Schlangen-bad, Nieder-selters, and Wiesbaden. Here he spends a season, bathing and drinking the waters of those celebrated springs, and describing such incidents as occurred to relieve the monotony of his somewhat idle life, in a most agreeable and taking way. To call this work facetious, as that term is commonly used, were not perhaps to give so accurate an idea of its style as might be conveyed by the adjective whimsical. Without subjecting the “old man” to the imputation of copyism, one may describe the manner as being an agreeable mixture of Charles Lamb's and Washington Irving's. The same covert conceit, the same hidden humor, the same piquant allusion, which, while you read, place the author bodily before you, a quiet old gentleman fond of his ease, but fonder of his joke — not a broad, forced, loud, vacant-minded joke, but a quiet, pungent, sly, laughter-moving conceit, which, at first stirring the finest membranes of your pericardium, at length sets you out into a broad roar of laughter, honest fellow as you are, and which you must be, indeed, a very savage, if you can avoid.

Our bubble-blower observes everything within the sphere of his vision, and even makes a most amusing chapter out of “The schwein-general,” or pig-drover of Schlanrgen-bad, which we wish we had space for enl tire. As it is, we give some reflections upon” the pig,” [page 340:] as being perfectly characteristic of the author's peculiar style.

There exists perhaps in creation no animal which has less justice and more injustice done to him by man than the pig. Gifted with every faculty of supplying himself, and of providing even against the approaching storm, which no creature is better capable of foretelling than a pig, we begin by putting an iron ring through the cartilage of his nose, and having thus barbarously deprived him of the power of searching for, and analyzing his food, we generally condemn him for the rest of his life to solitary confinement in a sty.

While his faculties are still his own, only observe how, with a bark or snort, he starts if you approach him, and mark what shrewd intelligence there is in his bright, twinkling little eye; but with pigs, as with mankind, idleness is the root of all evil. The poor animal, finding that he has absolutely nothing to do — having no enjoyment — nothing to look forward to but the pail which feeds him, naturally most eagerly, or as we accuse him, most greedily, greets its arrival. Having no natural business or diversion — nothing to occupy his brain — the whole powers of his system are directed to the digestion of a superabundance of food. To encourage this, nature assists him with sleep, which lulling his better faculties, leads his stomach to become the ruling power of his system-a tyrant that can bear no one's presence but his own. The poor pig, thus treated, gorges him self — sleeps — eats again — sleeps — wakens in a fight screams — struggles against the blue apron-screams fainter and fainter-turns up the whites of his little eyes — and — dies!

It is probably from abhorring this picture, that I know of nothing which is more distressing to me than to wit ness an indolent man eating his own home-fed pork.

There is something so horribly similar between the life of the human being and that of his victim-their notions on all subjects are so unnaturally contracted — there is such a melancholy resemblance between the strutting residence in the village, and the stalking confinement in the sty — between the sound of the dinner bell and the rattling of the pail — between snoring in an armchair and grunting in clean straw — that, when I contrast the “pig's countenance” in the dish with that of his lord and master, who, with outstretched elbows, sits leaning over it, I own I always feel it is so hard the one should have killed the other. — In short there is a sort of “Tu quoque, BRUTE!” moral in the picture, which to my mind is most painfully distressing.

The author thus speaks in relation to the mineral water of Wiesbaden.

In describing the taste of the mineral water of Wiesbaden, were I to say, that while drinking it, one hears in one's ears the cackling of hens, and that one sees feathers flying before one's eyes, I should certainly grossly exaggerate; but when I declare that it exactly resembles very hot chicken-broth, I only say what Dr. Granville said, and what in fact everybody says, and must say, respecting it; and certainly I do wonder why the common people should be at the inconvenience of making bad soup, when they can get much better from nature's great stock pot — the Koch-brunnen of Wiesbaden. At all periods of the year, summer or winter, the temperature of this broth remains the same, and when one reflects that it has been bubbling out of the ground, and boiling over in the same state, certainly flom the time of the Romans, and probably from the time of the flood, it is really astonishing to think what a most wonderful apparatus there must exist below, what an inexhaustible stock of provisions to ensure such an everlasting supply of broth, always formed of exactly the same degree, and always served up at exactly the same heat.

One would think that some of the particles in the recipe would be exhausted; in short, to speak metaphorically, that the chickens would at last be boiled to rags, or that the fire would go out for want of coals; but the oftener one reflects on these sort of subjects, the oftener is the old-fashioned observation repeated, that let a man go where he will, Omnipotence is never from his view.

It is good they say for the stomach — good for the skin — good for ladies of all possible ages — for all sorts and conditions of men. For a headache, drink, the inn-keepers exclaim, at the Koch-brunnen. For gout in the heels, soak the body, the doctors say, in the chicken-broth! — in short, the valetudinarian, reclining in his carriage, has scarcely entered the town, say what he will of himself, the inhabitants all seem to agree in repeating — “Bene bene respondere, dignus est intrare nostro docto corpore!

There was something to my mind so very novel in bathing in broth, that I resolved to try the experiment, particularly as it was the only means I had of following the crowd. Accordingly, retiring to my room, in a minute or two I also, in my slippers and black dressing gown was to be seen, staff in hand, mournfully walking down the long passage, as slowly and as gravely as if I had been in such a profession all my life. An infirm elderly lady was just before me — some lighter-sounding footsteps were behind me — but without raising our eyes from the ground, we all moved on, just as if we had been corpses gliditng or migrating from one church yard to another.

The door was now closed, and my dressing-gown being carefully hung upon a peg, (a situation I much envied it,) I proceeded, considerably against my inclination, to introduce myself to my new acquaintance, whose face, or surface, was certainly very revolting; for a white, thick, dirty, greasy scum, exactly resembling what would be on broth, covered the top of the bath. But all this, they say is exactly as it should be; and indeed, German bathers at Wiesbaden actually insist on its appearance, as it proves, they argue, that the bath has not been used by any one else. In most places in ordering a warm bath, it is necessary to wait till the water be heated, but at Wiesbaden, the springs are so exceedingly hot, that the baths are obliged to be filled over night, in order to be cool enough in the morning; and the dirty scum I have mentioned is the required proof that the water has, during that time, been undisturbed.

Resolving not to be bullied by the ugly face of my antagonist, I entered my bath, and in a few seconds I lay horizontally, calmly soaking, like my neighbors.

Here is a characteristic crayoning:

As soon as breakfast was over, I generally enjoyed the luxury of idling about the town: and, in passing the shop of a blacksmith, who lived opposite to the Goldene Kette, the manner in which he tackled and shod a vicious horse amused me. On the outside wall of the house two rings were firmly fixed, to one of which the head of the patient was lashed close to the ground; the hind foot, to be shod, stretched out to the utmost extent of the leg, was then secured to the other ring about five feet high, by a cord which passed through a cloven hitch, fixed to the root of the poor creature's tail.

The hind foot was consequently very much higher than the head; indeed, it was so exalted, and pulled so heavily at the tail, that the animal seemed to be quite anxious to keep his other feet on terra firma. With one hoof in the heavens, it did not suit him to kick; with his nose pointing to the infernal regions, he could not conveniently rear, and as the devil himself was apparently pulling at his tail, the horse at last gave up the point, and quietly submitted to be shod.





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