Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Early Naval History of England,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 48-49


[page 48:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, September, 1835.]

THE early naval history of England, and by so fine a writer as Southey undoubtedly is, either in poetry or prose, but more especially in the latter, cannot fail of exciting a lively interest among readers of every class. In the subject matter of this work we, as Americans, have moreover a particular feeling, for it has been often remarked that in no national characteristic do we bear a closer analogy to our progenitors in Great Britain than in the magnificence and glory of our many triumphs both over and upon the sea. To those who know Southey well, and we sincerely hope there are not a few of our readers who do know him intimately, through the medium of his writings at least, we shall be under no necessity of giving any assurance that the History of which we are now speaking, is a work of no common merit, and worthy of all their attention. Southey is a writer who has few equals anywhere, either in purity of truly English prose, or in melody of immortal verse. He is great in every department of Literature which he has attempted. And even did we feel inclined at present, with his very happily executed Naval History before us, to quarrel with some of his too zealous friends for overrating his merely poetical abilities, we could not find it in our hearts to place him second to any one — no, not to our own noble Irving in — we will not use the term classical, but prefer repeating our former expression — in truly [page 49:] English, undefiled, vigorous, and masculine prose. Yet this the North American Review has ventured to do, not having, we think, before its eyes the fear of flat and positive contradiction from all authorities whose opinions are entitled to consideration. Comparisons of this nature, moreover, rarely fail of appearing, even although they really be not invidious; and in the present instance we are really aware of no reason, or rather of no possibility for juxta-position. There are no points of approximation between Irving and Southey, and they cannot be compared. Why not say at once, for it could be said as wisely, and as satisfactorily, that Dante’s verse is superior to that of Metastasio — that the Latin of Erasmus is better than the Latin of Buchanan — that Bolingbroke is a finer prose writer than Horne Tooke, or coming home to our own times, that Tom Moore is to be preferred to Lord Brougham, and the style of N. P. Willis to the style of John Neal? We mean to deal, therefore, in generalities, when we disagree with Mr. Everett in what he has advanced. Irving is not a better prose writer than Southey. We know of no one who is. In saying this [[thus]] much we do not fear being accused of a deficiency in patriotic feeling. No true — we mean no sensible American will like a bad book the better for being American, and on the other hand no sensible man of any country, who pretends to even common freedom from prejudice, will esteem such a work as the Naval History of Great Britain the less for being written by a denizen of any region under the sun.





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Early Naval History of England)