Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Robert Walsh” (Text-B), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan PoeVol III: Literati &c. (1850), 3:212-215


[page 212, continued:]



HAVING read MR. WALSH's “Didactics,” with much attention and pleasure, I am prepared to admit that he is one of the finest writers, one of the most accomplished scholars, and when not in too great a hurry, one of the most accurate thinkers in the country. Yet had I never seen this work, I should never have entertained these opinions. Mr. Walsh has been peculiarly an anonymous writer, and has thus been instrumental in cheating himself of a great portion of that literary renown which is most unequivocally his due. I have been not unfrequently astonished in the perusal of this book, at meeting with a variety of well known and highly esteemed acquaintances, for whose paternity I had been accustomed to give credit where I now find it should not have been given. Among these I may mention in especial the very excellent Essay on the acting of Kean, entitled “Notices of Kean's [page 213:] principal performances during his first season in Philadelphia,” to be found at page 146, volume I. I have often thought of the unknown author of this Essay, as of one to whom I might speak, if occasion should at any time be granted me, with a perfect certainty of being understood. I have looked to the article itself as to a fair oasis in the general blankness and futility of our customary theatrical notices. I read it with that thrill of pleasure with which I always welcome my own long-cherished opinions, when I meet them unexpectedly in the language of another. How absolute is the necessity now daily growing, of rescuing our stage criticism from the control of illiterate mountebanks, and placing it in the hands of gentlemen and scholars!

The paper on Collegiate Education is much more than a sufficient reply to that Essay in the Old Bachelor of Mr. Wirt, in which the attempt is made to argue down colleges as seminaries for the young. Mr. Walsh's article does not uphold Mr. Barlow's plan of a National University — a plan which is assailed by the Attorney General — but comments upon some errors in point of fact, and enters into a brief but comprehensive examination of the general subject. He maintains with undeniable truth, that it is illogical to deduce arguments against universities which are to exist at the present day, from the inconveniences found to be connected with institutions formed in the dark ages — institutions similar to our own in but few respects, modelled upon the principles and prejudices of the times, organized with a view to particular ecclesiastical purposes, and confined in their operations by an infinity of Gothic and perplexing regulations. He thinks, (and I believe he thinks with a great majority of our well educated fellow citizens,) that in the case either of a great national institute or of State universities, nearly all the difficulties so much insisted upon will prove a series of mere chimeras — that the evils apprehended might be readily obviated, and the acknowledged benefits uninterruptedly secured. He denies, very justly, the assertion of the Old Bachelor — that, in the progress of society, funds for collegiate establishments will no doubt be accumulated, independently of government, when their benefits are evident, and a necessity for them felt — and that the rich who have funds will, whenever strongly impressed with the necessity of so doing, provide, either [page 214:] by associations or otherwise, proper seminaries for the education of their children. He shows that these assertions are contradictory to experience, and more particularly to the experience of the State of Virginia, where, notwithstanding the extent of private opulence, and the disadvantages under which the community so long labored from a want of regular and systematic instruction, it was the government which was finally compelled, and not private societies which were induced, to provide establishments for effecting the great end. He says, (and therein I must all fully agree with him,) that Virginia may consider herself fortunate in following the example of all the enlightened nations of modern times rather than in hearkening to the counsels of the Old Bachelor. He dissents, (and who would not?) from the allegation, that “the most eminent men in Europe, particularly in England, have received their education neither at public schools or universities,” and shows that the very reverse may be affirmed — that on the continent of Europe by far the greater number of its great names have been attached to the rolls of its universities — and that in England a vast majority of those minds which I have reverenced so long — the Bacons, the Newtons, the Barrows, the Clarkes, the Spencers, the Miltons, the Drydens, the Addisons, the Temples, the Hales, the Clarendons, the Mansfields, Chatham, Pit [[Pitt]], Fox, Wyndham, &c., were educated among the venerable cloisters of Oxford or of Cambridge. He cites the Oxford Prize Essays, so well known even in America, as direct evidence of the energetic ardor in acquiring knowledge brought about through the means of British Universities, and maintains that “when attention is given to the subsequent public stations and labors of most of the writers of these Essays, it will be found that they prove also the ultimate practical utility of the literary discipline of the colleges for the students and the nation.” He argues, that were it even true that the greatest men have not been educated in public schools, the fact would have little to do with the question of their efficacy in the instruction of the mass of mankind. Great men cannot be created — and are usually independent of all particular schemes of education. Public seminaries are best adapted to the generality of cases. He concludes with observing that the course of study pursued at English Universities, is more liberal by [page 215:] far than I are willing to suppose it — that it is, demonstrably, the best, inasmuch as regards the preference given to classical and mathematical knowledge — and that upon the whole it would be an easy matter, in transferring to America the general principles of those institutions, to leave them their obvious errors, while I avail ourselves as I best may, of their still more obvious virtues and advantages.

The only paper in the Didactics, to which I have any decided objection, is a tolerably long article on the subject of Phrenology, entitled “Memorial of the Phrenological Society of —— to the Honorable the Congress of —— sitting at ——.” Considered as a specimen of mere burlesque, the Memorial is well enough — but I am sorry to see the energies of a scholar and an editor (who should be, if he be not, a man of metaphysical science,) so wickedly employed as in any attempt to throw ridicule upon a question, (however much maligned, or however apparently ridiculous,) whose merits he has never examined, and of whose very nature, history, and assumptions, he is most evidently ignorant. Mr. Walsh is either ashamed of this article now, or he will have plentiful reason to be ashamed of it hereafter.


This entry is slightly condensed from Poe's review of Didactics first printed in the Southern Literary Messenger. A general change is from the perspective of “we” to one of “I.”


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