Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Heroine,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 76-81


[page 76:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, December, 1835.]

CHERUBINA! Who has not heard of Cherubina! [[?]] Who has not heard of that most spiritual, that most ill-treated, that most accomplished of women — of that most consummate, most sublimated, most fantastic, most unappreciated, and most inappreciable of heroines? Exquisite and delicate creation of a mind overflowing with fun, frolic, farce, wit, humor, song, sentiment, and sense, what mortal is there so dead to every thing graceful and glorious as not to have devoured thy adventures? Who is there so unfortunate as not to have taken thee by the hand? — who so lost as not to have cultivated thy acquaintance? — who so stupid, as not to have enjoyed thy companionship? — who so much of a log, as not to have laughed until he has wept for very laughter in the perusal of thine incomparable, inimitable, and inestimable eccentricities? But we are becoming pathetic to no purpose, and supererogatively oratorical. Everybody has read Cherubina. There is no one so superlatively unhappy as not to have done this thing. But if such there be — if by any possibility such person should exist, we have only a few words to say to him. Go, silly man, and purchase forthwith “The Heroine: or Adventures of Cherubina.” The Heroine was first published many years ago, (we believe shortly after the appearance of Childe Harold;) but although it has run through editions innumerable, and has been universally read and [page 77:] admired by all possessing talent or taste, it has never, in our opinion, attracted half that notice on the part of the critical press, which is undoubtedly its due. There are few books written with more tact, spirit, naïveté, or grace, few which take hold more irresistibly upon the attention of the reader, and none more fairly entitled to rank among the classics of English literature than the Heroine of Eaton Stannard Barrett. When we say all this of a book possessing not even the remotest claim to originality, either in conception or execution, it may reasonably be supposed, that we have discovered in its matter, or manner, some rare qualities, inducing us to hazard an assertion of so bold a nature. This is actually the case. Never was anything so charmingly written: the mere style is positively inimitable. Imagination, too, of the most etherial kind, sparkles and blazes, now sportively like the Will O’ the Wisp, now dazzlingly like the Aurora Borealis, over every page — over every sentence in the book. It is absolutely radiant with fancy, and that of a nature the most captivating, although, at the same time, the most airy, the most capricious, and the most intangible. Yet the Heroine must be considered a mere burlesque; and, being a copy from Don Quixote, is to that immortal work of Cervantes what The School for Scandal is to The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Plot is briefly as follows.

Gregory Wilkinson, an English farmer worth 50,000 pounds, has a pretty daughter called Cherry, whose head is somewhat disordered from romance reading. Her governess is but little more rational than herself, and is one day turned out of the house for allowing certain undue liberties on the part of the butler. In revenge she commences a correspondence with Miss [page 78:] Cherry, in which she persuades that young lady that Wilkinson is not her real father — that she is a child of mystery, &c. — in short that she is actually and bonâ fide a heroine. In the meantime, Miss Cherry, in rummaging among her father’s papers, comes across an antique parchment — a lease of lives — on which the following words are alone legible,

This Indenture

For and in consideration of

Doth grant, bargain, release

Possession, and to his heirs and assigns

Lands of Sylvan Lodge, in the

Trees, stones, quarries, &c.

Reasonable amends and satisfaction

This demise

Molestation of him the said Gregory Wilkinson.

The natural life of

Cherry Wilkinson only daughter of

De Willoughby eldest son of Thomas

Lady Gwyn of Gwyn Castle.

This “excruciating MS.” brings matters to a crisis — for Miss Cherry has no difficulty in filling up the blanks.

“It is a written covenant,” says this interesting young lady in a letter to her Governess, “between this Gregory Wilkinson, and the miscreant (whom my being an heiress had prevented from enjoying the title and estate that would devolve to him at my death) stipulating to give Wilklinson “Sylvan Lodge,” together with “trees, stones, &c.” as “reasonable amends and satisfaction” for being the instrument of my “demise,” and declaring that there shall be “no molestation of him the said Gregory Wilkinson” for taking away the “natural life of Cherry Wilkinson, [page 79:] only daughter of” —— somebody “De Willoughby eldest son of Thomas.” Then follows “Lady Gwyn of Gwyn Castle.” So that it is evident I am a De Willoughby, and related to Lady Gwyn! What perfectly confirms me in the latter supposition, is an old portrait which I found soon after, among Wilkinson’s papers, representing a young and beautiful female superbly dressed; and underneath, in large letters, the name of “Nell Gwyn.”

Fired with this idea, Miss Cherry gets up a scene, rushes with hair dishevelled into the presence of the good man Wilkinson, and accuses him to his teeth of plotting against her life, and of sundry other malpractices and misdemeanors. The worthy old gentleman is astonished, as well he may be; but is somewhat consoled upon receiving a letter from his nephew, Robert Stuart, announcing his intention of paying the family a visit immediately. Wilkinson is in hopes that a lover may change the current of his daughter’s ideas; but in that he is mistaken. Stuart has the misfortune of being merely a rich man, a handsome man, an honest man, and a fashionable man — he is no hero. This is not to be borne: and Miss Cherry, having assumed the name of the Lady Cherubina De Willoughby, makes a precipitate retreat from the house, and commences a journey on foot to London. Her adventures here properly begin, and are laughable in the extreme. But we must not be too minute. They are modelled very much after those of Don Quixote, and are related in a series of letters from the young lady herself to her governess. The principal characters who figure in the Memoirs are Betterton, an old débauché, who endeavors to entangle the Lady Cherubina in his toils — Jerry Sullivan, an Irish simpleton, [page 80:] who is ready to lose his life at any moment for her ladyship, whose story he implicitly believes, without exactly comprehending it — Higginson, a grown baby, and a mad poet — Lady Gwyn, whom Cherubina believes to be her mortal enemy, and the usurper of her rights, and who encourages the delusion for the purpose of entertaining her guests — Mary and William, two peasants betrothed, but whom Cherry sets by the ears for the sake of an interesting episode — Abraham Grundy, a tenth rate performer at Covent Garden, who having been mistaken by Cherry for an earl, supports the character à merveille with the hope of eventually marrying her, and thus securing 10,000 pounds, a sum which it appears the lady possesses in her own right. He calls himself the Lord Altamont Mortimer Montmorenci. Stuart, her cousin, whom we have mentioned before, finally rescues her from the toils of Betterton and Grundy, and restores her to reason, and to her friends. Of course he is rewarded with her hand.

We repeat that Cherubina is a book which should be upon the shelves of every well-appointed library. No one can read it without entertaining a high opinion of the varied and brilliant talents of its author. No one can read it without laughter. Its wit, especially, and its humor, are indisputable — not frittered and refined away into that insipid compound which we occasionally meet with, half giggle and half sentiment — but racy, dashing, and palpable. Some of the songs with which the work is interspersed have attained a most extensive popularity, while many persons, to whom they are as familiar as household things, are not aware of the very existence of the Heroine. All our readers must remember the following: [page 81:]

Dear Sensibility, O la!

I heard a little lamb cry ba!

Says I, so you have lost mamma!


The little lamb as I said so,

Frisking about the fields did go,

And frisking trod upon my toe.


And this also.


If Black-sea, White-sea, Red-sea ran

One tide of ink to Ispahan;

If all the geese in Lincoln fens

Produced spontaneous well-made pens;

If Holland old or Holland new,

One wondrous sheet of paper grew;

Could I, by stenographic power,

Write twenty libraries an hour;

And should I sing but half the grace

Of half a freckle on thy face;

Each syllable I wrote should reach

From Inverness to Bognor’s beach;

Each hair-stroke be a river Rhine,

Each verse an equinoctial line.

We have already exceeded our limits, but cannot refrain from extracting Chapter XXV. It will convey some idea of the character of the Heroine. She is now at the mansion of Lady Gwyn, who, for the purpose of amusing her friends, has dressed up her nephew to represent the supposed mother of the Lady Cherubina.

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