Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Lives of the Cardinal de Richelieu, Count Oxenstiern, Count Olivarex, and Cardinal Mazarin,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), 9:168-170


[page 168:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, October, 1836.]

AS a novelist, Mr. James has never, certainly, been popular — nor has he, we think, deserved popularity. Neither do we mean to imply that with “the few” he has been held in very lofty estimation. He has fallen[[,]] apparently, upon that unlucky mediocrity permitted neither by Gods nor columns. His historical novels have been of a questionable character — neither veritable history, nor endurable romance — neither “fish, flesh, nor gude red herring.” He has been lauded, it is true, by a great variety of journals, and in many instances mentioned with approbation by men whose critical opinions (could we fully ascertain them) would be entitled to the highest consideration. It is not, however, by the amount, so readily as by the nature or character of such public compliments, that we can estimate their intrinsic value, or that of the object complimented. No man speaks of James, as he speaks, (and cannot help speaking) of Scott, of Bulwer, of D’Israeli, and of numerous lesser minds than these — and all inferior to James, if we harken to the body rather than to tbe soul of the testimonies offered hourly by the public press. The author of “Richelieu” and “Darnley” is lauded, by a great majority of those who laud him, from mere motives of duty, not of inclination — duty erroneously conceived. He is looked upon as the head and representative of those novelists [page 169:] who, in historical romance, attempt to blend interest with instruction. His sentiments are found to be pure — his morals unquestionable, and pointedly shown forth — his language indisputably correct. And for all this, praise, assuredly, but then only a certain degree of praise, should be awarded him. To be pure in his expressed opinions is a duty; and were his language as correct as any spoken, he would speak only as every gentleman should speak. In regard to his historical information, were it much more accurate, and twice as extensive as, from any visible indications, we have reason to believe it, it should still be remembered that similar attainments are possessed by many thousands of well-educated men of all countries, who look upon their knowledge with no more than ordinary complacency; and that a far, very far higher reach of erudition is within the grasp of any general reader having access to the great libraries of Paris or the Vatican. Something more than we have mentioned is necessary to place our author upon a level with the best of the English novelists — for here his admirers would desire us to place him. Had Sir Walter Scott never existed, and Waverley never been written, we would not, of course, award Mr. J. the merit of being the first to blend history, even successfully, with fiction. But as an indifferent imitator of the Scotch novelist in this respect, it is unnecessary to speak of the author of “Richelieu” any farther. To genius of any kind, it seems to us, that he has little pretension. In the solemn tranquillity of his pages we seldom stumble across a novel emotion[[,]] and if any matter of deep interest arises in the path, we are pretty sure to find it an interest appertaining to some historical fact equally vivid or more so in the original chronicles. [page 170:]

Of the volumes now before us we are enabled to speak more favorably — yet not in a tone of high commendation. The book might more properly be called “Notices of the Times of Richelieu,” &c. Of course, in so small a compass, nothing like a minute account of the life and varied intrigues of even Mazarin alone, could be expected. What is done, however, is done with more than the author's usual ability, and with much more than his customary spirit. In the Life of Axel, Count Oxenstiern, there is, we believe, a great deal of information not to be met with in the more accessible historians of Sweden.





[S:1 - JAH09, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Lives of the Cardinal de Richelieu, Count Oxenstiern, Count Olivarex, and Cardinal Mazarin)