Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Rambler in North America,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 111-114


[page 111:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, December, 1835 [[January, 1836]].]

MR. LATROBE is connected with a lineage of missionaries. He belongs to an English family long and honorably distinguished by their exertions in the cause of Christianity. His former work, “The Alpenstock,” we have not seen — but the London Quarterly Review calls it “a pleasing and useful manual for travellers in Switzerland.” The present volumes (dedicated to Washington Irving, whom Mr. L. accompanied in a late tour through the Prairies,) consist of thirty-seven letters addressed to F. B. Latrobe, a younger brother of the author. They form, upon the whole, one of the most instructive and amusing books we have perused for years.

By no means blind to our faults, to our foibles, or to our political difficulties, Mr. Latrobe has travelled from Dan to Beersheba without finding all barren. His observations are not confined to some one or two subjects, engrossing his attention to the exclusion, or to the imperfect examination, of all others. His wanderings among us have been apparently guided by a spirit of frank and liberal curiosity; and he deserves the good will of all Americans, (as he has most assuredly secured their esteem) by viewing us, not with a merely English eye, but with the comprehensive glance of a citizen of the world.

To speak in detail of a work so subdivided as “The [page 112:] Rambler in North America,” would occupy too much of our time. We can, of course, only touch, in general terms, upon its merits and demerits. The latter, we can assure our readers, are few indeed. One instance, nevertheless, of what must be considered false inference from data undeniably correct, is brought to bear so pointedly against our social and political principles, and is, at the same time, so plausible in itself, and so convincingly worded, as to demand a sentence or two of comment. We quote the passage in full, the more willingly, as we perceive it dwelt upon with much emphasis, by the London Quarterly Review.

“There are certain signs, perhaps it might be said of the times, rather than of their peculiar political arrangements, which should make men pause in their judgment of the social state in America. The people are emancipated from the thraldom of mind and body which they consider consequent upon upholding the divine right of kings. They are all politically equal. All claim to place, patronage, or respect, for the bearer of a great name is disowned. Every man must stand or fall by himself alone, and must make or mar [[his for tune. Each is gratified in believing that he has]] his share in the government of the Union. You speak against the insane anxiety of the people to govern — of authority being detrimental to the minds of men raised from insignificance — of the essential vulgarity of minds which can attend to nothing but matter of fact and pecuniary interest — of the possibility of the existence of civilization without cultivation, — and you are not understood! I have said it may be the spirit of the times, for we see signs of it, alas, in Old England; but there must be something in the political atmosphere of America, which is more than ordinarily congenial to that decline ofjust and necessary subordination, [page 113:] which God has both permitted by the natural impulses of the human mintd, and ordered in His word; and to me the looseness of the tie generally observable in many parts of the United States between the master and servant — the child and the parent — the scholar and the master — the governor and the governed — in brief, the decay of loyal feeling in all the relations of life, was the worst sign of the times. Who shall say but that if these bonds are distorted and set aside, the first and the greatest — which binds us in subjection to the law of God — will not also be weakened, if not broken? This, and this alone, short-sighted as I am, would cause me to pause in predicting the future grandeur of America under its present system of government and structure of society.”

In the sentence beginning, “I have said it may be the spirit of the times, for we see signs of it, alas, in Old England, but there must be something,” &c. Mr. Latrobe has involved himself in a contradiction. By the words, [[“]]but there must be something in the political atmosphere of America which is more than ordinarily congenial to[[”]] insubordination, he implies (although unintentionally) that our natural impulses lead us in this direction — and that these natural impulses are permitted by God, we at all events, are not permitted to doubt. In the words immediately succeeding those just quoted, he maintains (what is very true) that “subordination was both permitted by God in the natural impulses of the human mind, and ordered in His word.” The question thus resolves itself into a matter of then and now — of times past and times present — of the days of the patriarchs and of the days of widely disseminated knowledge. The infallibility of the instinct of those natural impulses [page 114:] which led men to obey in the infancy of all things, we have no intention of denying — we must demand the same grace for those natural impulses which prompt men to govern themselves in the senectitude of the world. In the sentence, “Who shall say but that if these bonds are distorted and set aside, the first and the greatest — which binds us in subjection to the law of God — will not also be weakened, if not broken?” the sophistry is evident; and we have only a few words to say in reply. In the first place, the writer has assumed that those bonds are “distorted” and “set aside” which are merely slackened to an endurable degree. In the second place, the “setting aside” these bonds, (granting them to be set aside) so far from tending to weaken our subjection to the law of God, will the more readily confirm that subjection, inasmuch as our responsibilities to man have been denied, through the conviction of our responsibilities to God, and — to God alone.

We recommend “The Rambler” to the earnest attention of our readers. It is the best work on America yet published. Mr. Latrobe is a scholar, a man of intellect and a gentleman.



Harrison mistakenly includes this item among those for December, 1835. In the present text, Harrison’s order is retained, but the correct date of January 1836 has been restored. Harrison omits a portion of the quoted paragraph, restored above in double brackets.


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