Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Conti the Discarded,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), 8:229-234


[page 229, continued:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, February, 1836.]

MR. CHORLEY has hitherto written nothing of any great length. His name, however, is familiar to all readers of English Annuals, and in whatever we have seen from his pen, evidences of a rare genius have been perceptible. In Conti, and in the “Other Tales and Fancies” which accompany it, these evidences are more distinct, more brilliant, and more openly developed. Neither are these pieces wanting in a noble, and, to us, a most thrillingly interesting purpose. In [page 230:] saying that our whole heart is with the author — that the deepest, and we trust, the purest emotions are enkindled within us by his chivalric and magnanimous design — we present but a feeble picture of our individual feelings as influenced by the perusal of Conti. We repeat it — our whole heart is with the author. When shall the artist assume his proper situation in society — in a society of thinking beings? How long shall he be enslaved? How long shall mind succumb to the grossest materiality? How long shall the veriest vermin of the Earth, who crawl around the altar of Mammon, be more esteemed of men than they, the gifted ministers to those exalted emotions which link us with the mysteries of Heaven? To our own query we may venture a reply. Not long. Not long will such rank injustice be committed or permitted. A spirit is already abroad at war with it. And in every billow of the unceasing sea of Change — and in every breath, however gentle, of the wide atmosphere of Revolution encircling us, is that spirit steadily yet irresistibly at work.

“Who has not looked,” says Mr. Chorley in his Preface, “with painful interest on the unreckoned-up account of misunderstanding and suspicion which exists between the World and the Artist? Who has not grieved to see the former willing to degrade Art, into a mere plaything — to be enjoyed without respect, and then cast aside — instead of receiving her high works as among the most humanizing blessings ever vouchsafed to man by a beneficent Creator? Who has not suffered shame in observing the Artist bring his own calling into contempt by coarsely regarding it as a mere engine of money getting, or holding it up to reproach by making it the excuse for such [page 231:] eccentricities or grave errors as separate him from the rest of society?”

That genius should not and indeed cannot be bound down to the vulgar common-places of existence, is a maxim which, however true, has been too often repeated; and there have appeared on earth enough spirits of the loftiest and most brilliant order who have worthily taken their part in life, as useful citizens, affectionate husbands, faithful friends, to deprive of their excuse all such as hold, that to despise and alienate the world is the inevitable and painfully glorious destiny of the highly gifted.

Very few of our readers, it may be, are acquainted with a particular class of works which has long exercised a very powerful influence on the private habits and character, as well as on the literature of the Germans. We speak of the Art Novels — the Kunstromanen — books written not so much in immediate defence, or in illustration, as in personification of individual portions of the Fine Arts — books which, in the guise of Romance, labor to the sole end of reasoning men into admiration and study of the beautiful, by a tissue of bizarre fiction, partly allegorical, and partly metaphysical. In Germany alone could so mad — or perhaps so profound — an idea have originated. From the statement of Mr. Chorley, we find that his original intention was to attempt something in the style of the Kunstromanen, with such modifications as might seem called for by the peculiar spirit of the British national tastes and literature. “It occurred to me, however,” says he, “that the very speculations and reveries which appeared to myself so delicious and significant, might be rejected by the rest of the world as fantastic and overstrained.” Mr. C. could [[never]] have persevered in [page 232:] a scheme so radically erroneous for more than a dozen pages, and neither the world nor himself will have cause to regret that he thought proper to abandon the Art Novels, and embody his fine powers and lofty design in so stirring and so efficient a series of paintings as may be found in the present volumes.

A single passage near the commencement of Conti, will afford to all those who feel and think, direct evidence of the extraordinary abilities of Mr. Chorley. Madame Zerlini is an Italian prima donna, who becoming enamored of Colonel Hardwycke, an Englishman, accompanies him to England as his mistress, and after living with him for twelve years, and bearing him a son, Julius, dies suddenly upon hearing of his intention to marry.

“A strange scene greeted his eyes (those of Julius) as he entered the spacious hall, which, as its windows fronted the east, was already beginning to be dusky with the shadows of twilight. On the lowest step of the stairs lay, in violent hysterics, one of the women servants — she was raving and weeping, half supported by two others, themselves trembling so as to be almost powerless.

“ ‘And here's Master Julius, too!’ exclaimed one of the group which obstructed his passage,’and my master gone away — no one knows for how long. Lord have mercy upon us! — what are we to do, I wonder?’

“ ‘ Don’t go up stairs!’ shrieked the other, leaving her charge, and endeavoring to stop him. ‘Don’t go up stairs — it is all over!’

“But the boy, whose mind was full of other matters and who, having wandered away in the morning, before the delirium became so violent, had no idea of [page 233:] his mother's imminent danger, broke from them without catching the meaning of their words, and forced his way up stairs, towards the great drawing-room, the folding doors of which were swinging open.

“He went in. Madame Zerlini was there — flung down upon a sofa, in an attitude which, in life, it would have been impossible for her to maintain for many moments. Her head was cast back over one of the pillows, so far, that her long hair, which had been imperfectly fastened, had disengaged itself by its own weight, and was now sweeping heavily downward, with a crushed wreath of passion flowers and myrtles half buried among it. Everything about her told how fiercely the spirit had passed. Her robe of scarlet muslin was entirely torn off on one shoulder, and disclosed its exquisitely rounded proportions. Her glittering négligé was unclasped, and one end of it clenched firmly in the small left hand, which there was now hardly any possibility of unclosing. Her glazed eyes were wide open — her mouth set in an unnatural, yet fascinating smile; her cheek still flushed with a more delicate, yet intense red than belongs to health; and the excited boy, who was rushing hastily into the room, with the rapid inquiry, ‘Where is Father Vanezzi?’ stood as fixed on the threshhold, with sudden and conscious horror, as if he had been a thing of marble.”

It is not our intention to analyze, or even to give a compend of the Tale of Conti. Such are not the means by which any idea of its singular power can be afforded. We will content ourselves with saying that, in its prevailing tone, it bears no little resemblance to that purest, and most enthralling of fictions, the Bride of Lammermuir; and we have once before expressed [page 234:] our opinion of this, the master novel of Scott. It is not too much to say that no modern composition, and perhaps no composition whatever, with the single exception of Cervantes’ Destruction of Numantia, approaches so nearly to the proper character of the dramas of Æschylus, as the magic tale of which Ravenswood is the hero. We are not aware of being sustained by any authority in this opinion — yet we do not believe it the less intrinsically correct.

The other pieces in the volumes of Mr. Chorley are, Margaret Sterne, or The Organist's Journey — an Essay on the Popular Love of MusicRossini's OtelloThe Imaginative Instrumental Writers, Haydn, Beethoven, etc. — The Village Beauty's WeddingHandel's Messiah — and A few words upon National Music — all of which papers evince literary powers of a high order, an intimate acquaintance with the science of music, and a lofty and passionate devotion to its interests.





[S:1 - JAH08, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Conti the Discarded)