Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Bayard Taylor” (Text-B), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan PoeVol III: Literati &c. (1850), 3:207-209


[page 207, continued:]



I BLUSH to see, in the Literary World, an invidious notice of BAYARD TAYLOR'sRhymes of Travel.” What makes the matter worse, the critique is from the pen of one who, although undeservedly, holds, himself, some position as a poet: — and what makes the matter worst, the attack is anonymous, and (while ostensibly commending) most zealously endeavors to damn the young writer “with faint praise.” In his whole life, the author of the criticism never published a poem, long or short, which could compare, either in the higher merits, or in the minor morals of the Muse, with the worst of Mr. Taylor's compositions.

Observe the generalizing disingenuous patronizing tone:

It is the empty charlatan, to whom all things are alike impossible, who attempts everything. He can do one thing as well as another; for he can really do nothing. . . . . . Mr. Taylor's volume, as we have intimated, is an advance upon his previous publication. We could have wished, indeed, something more of restraint in the rhetoric, but, &c., &c., &c.

The concluding sentence here is an excellent example one the most ingeniously malignant of critical ruses — that of condemning [page 208:] an author, in especial, for what the world, in general, feel to be his principal merit. In fact, the “rhetoric” of Mr. Taylor, in the sense intended by the critic, is Mr. Taylor's distinguishing excellence. He is, unquestionably, the most terse, glowing, and vigorous of all our poets, young or old — in point, I mean, of expression. His sonorous, well-balanced rhythm puts me often in mind of Campbell (in spite of our anonymous friend's implied sneer at “mere jingling of rhymes, brilliant and successful for the moment,”) and his rhetoric in general is of the highest order: — By “rhetoric” I intend the mode generally in which Thought is presented. Where shall we find more magnificent passages than these?

First queenly Asia, from the fallen thrones

Of twice three thousand years,

Came with the wo a grieving Goddess owns

Who longs for mortal tears,

The dust of ruin to her mantle clung

And dimned her crown of gold,

While the majestic sorrows of her tongue

From Tyre to Indus rolled.

Mourn with me, sisters, in my realm of wo

Whose only glory streams

From its lost childhood like the Arctic, glow

Which sunless winter dreams.

In the red desert moulders Babylon

And the wild serpent's hiss

Echoes in Petra's palaces of stone

And waste Persepolis.

Then from her seat, amid the palms embowered

That shade the Lion-land,

Swart Africa in dusky aspect towered,

The fetters on her hand.

Backward she saw, from out the drear eclipse,

The mighty Theban years,

And the deep anguish of her mournful lips

Interpreted her tears.

I copy these passages first, because the critic in question has copied them, without the slightest appreciation of their grandeur — for they are grand; and secondly, to put the question of “rhetoric” at rest. No artist who reads them will deny that they are the perfection of skill in their way. But thirdly, I wish to call attention to the glowing imagination evinced in the lines italicized. My very soul revolts at such efforts, (as the one I refer to,) to depreciate such poems as Mr. Taylor's. Is there no honor — no [page 209:] chivalry left in the land? Are our most deserving writers to be forever sneered down, or hooted down, or damned down with faint praise, by a set of men who possess little other ability than that which assures temporary success to them, in common with Swaim's Panacea or Morrison's pills? The fact is, some person should write, at once, a Magazine paper exposing — ruthlessly exposing, the dessous de cartes of our literary affairs. He should show how and why it is that the ubiquitous quack in letters can always “succeed,” while genius, (which implies self-respect, with a scorn of creeping and crawling,) must inevitably succumb. He should point out the “easy arts” by which any one, base enough to do it, can get himself placed at the very head of American Letters by an article in that magnanimous journal, “The —— Review.” He should explain, too, how readily the same work can be induced (as in the case of Simms,) to villify, and villify personally, any one not a Northerner, for a trifling “consideration.” In fact, our criticism needs a thorough regeneration, and must have it.




[S:1 - WORKS, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Bayard Taylor (Text-B)