Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Skimmings, or a Winter at Schloss Hainfeld in Lower Styria,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), 9:170-174


[page 170, continued:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, October, 1836.]

“SKIMMINGS,” we apprehend, is hardly better, as a title than “Pencillings” or “Inklings” — yet Captain Hall has prefixed this little piece of affectation to some pages of interest. His book, we are informed in the Preface, is intended as a pioneer to a work of larger dimensions, and consisting of passages from journals written during three different excursions to the Continent. The specimen now given us is principally valuable as treating of a region but little known, or at least very partially described.

Towards the close of April 1834, the Captain, accompanied by his wife and family, being on his way [page 171:] from Rome to Naples, received an invitation from a certain Countess Purgstall to visit her castle or Schloss of Hainfeld near Gratz in Lower Styria. The Countess, whose name and existence were equally unknown to our travellers, was found to be an elderly Scotch lady, who forty years before having married an Austrian nobleman, went with him to Germany, and never returned to Scotland. She claimed moreover to be an early friend of Sir James Hall, the captain's father. Induced by the knowledge of this fact, by the earnest manner in which the old lady urged her invitation, and more especially by a desire of seeing Lower Styria, our author paid her a visit in October, taking the homeward route through that country instead of following the usual track of English travellers through the Tyrol.

The Countess Purgstall is a character in whom the reader finds himself insensibly interested. Her maiden name was Jane Anne Cranstoun. She was the sister of Lord Corehouse, and of Mrs. Dugald Stuart — moreover our travellers find her a most agreeable companion and hostess, and discover beyond a doubt that from herself Sir Walter Scott depicted Di Vernon, the most original and spirited of his female paintings. It is, consequently, almost needless to say that in early youth the Countess was a votary of the gay world; and the circumstances under which she was so solicitous for a visit from the son of her old friend, were the more touching on this account. Her only son, a boy of premature talent, having died, she had given herself up to grief; and for three years she had been confined to bed. Captain Hall and his family remained with her, at her urgent desire, until her decease, which took place upon the 23d of March, within a day of the period long before designated by herself for that event. [page 172:]

Besides the variety of singular anecdotes respecting the Countess and her household, the volume is enriched with many curious stories, scandalous, legendary, or superstitious. In a chapter entitled “The Neighbors,” we have the Austrian nobility at their country residences strikingly contrasted with the English noblesse. Here is an account of a dinner given the Captain at the castle of an Hungarian nobleman, near the village of St. Gothard.

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At Chapter X, we were somewhat astonished at meeting with an old friend, in the shape of the verses beginning “My Life is like the Summer Rose.” These lines are thus introduced. “One day, when I entered the Countess’ room, I observed that she had been writing; but on my sitting down by her bedside, she sent away the apparatus, retaining only one sheet of paper, which she held up, and said — ‘You have written your life; here is mine,’ and she put into my hands the following copy of verses, by whom written she would not tell me. Probably they ore by herself, for they are certainly exactly such as suited her cast of thought.”

Here it certainly appears that the Countess desired the Captain to think them her composition. Surely these stanzas have had a singular notoriety, and many claimants!

It appears very clearly from the relation of Captain Hall and from a letter of Lockhart's, published in the volume before us, that the Countess Purgstall (Miss Cranstoun) had no little influence in the formation of the literary character of Sir Walter Scott. In his youth, the great novelist, then comparatively unknown, was received on friendly terms by the family of Dugald Stuart, of [page 173:] which Miss Cranstoun, the elder sister of Mrs. Stuart, was a member. This intimacy, we are told, led Sir Walter frequently to consult Miss C. in regard to his literary productions, and we should infer that the sagacity of the young lady readily appreciated the great merit of her protégé. On this head an anecdote of deep interest is related. Bürger's poem “Lenore [[Leonore]]” was received in Scotland about 1793, and a translation of it read by Mrs. Barbauld, at the house of Dugald Stuart. Miss Cranstoun's description of the poem and its effect, took possession of the mind of Sir Walter, and, having with great effort studied the lines in the original, he at length completed himself a poetical translation, and Miss Cranstoun, very much to her astonishment, was aroused one morning at half past six o’clock, to listen to its recital by the translator in person. Of course she gave it all attention, and begged permission to retain the MS. for a few days to look it over at leisure. To this the poet consented — adding that she had as well keep it until his return from the country, whither he was about to proceed on a visit. Of this intended visit, it seems the critic was aware. As soon as Sir Walter had gone, she sent for their common friend Mr. Erskine, afterwards Lord Kinneder, and confided to him a scheme for having the MS. printed. An arrangement was made with Mr. Robert Miller the bookseller, by which a small edition of “Lenore [[Leonore]]” was to be hastily thrown off, one copy to be done on the finest paper and superbly bound. Mr. Miller had the book soon ready, and despatched it to the address of “Mr. Scott,” so as to arrive when the company were assembled round the tea-table after dinner. Much curiosity was expressed by all — not forgetting Miss C— to ascertain the contents of so [page 174:] beautiful a little volume. The envelope was at length torn off by the astonished author, who, for the first time, thus saw himself in print, and who, “all unconscious of the glories which awaited him, had possibly never dreamed of appearing in such a dress.” He was now called upon to read the poem — and the effect upon the company is said to have been electrical. These reminiscences of Sir Walter form, possibly, the most interesting portions of Schloss Hainfeld. The entire volume, however, has many charms of matter, and more especially of manner. Captain Hall is no ordinary writer. This justice must be done him.



Throughout this article, in the original printing, Poe spells the name as “Leonore,” although the name has been published also as “Lenore.” Harrison's modified spelling would seem to unfairly encourage the idea that Poe used this book as a source for the name “Lenore,” used in his poem of that name and in “The Raven.”


[S:1 - JAH09, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Skimmings, or a Winter at Schloss Hainfeld in Lower Styria)