Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of an Address delivered before the Goethean and Diagnothian Societies of Marshall College,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), 10:57-59


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[Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, December, 1839.]

WE have read this address thoughtfully, and with great pleasure. It assuredly does its accomplished author much credit, and we cannot be surprised at the intense interest with which, as we learn, it was listened to by the institutions before whom it was delivered. Addresses, in general, are very ordinary matters, and we dislike to say anything about them, because we seldom have anything more to say than a few brief words of utter condemnation. The leading features of this branch of letters, at the present day, may be summed up in petto — stale wisdom, overdone sentiment, schoolboy classicalities, bad English, worse Latin, and wholesale rhodomontade. Mr. Chandler has given us a good Address, and done an original thing.

Originality is indeed, we think, one of the distinguishing traits of Mr C.'s mind, and the Essay now before us evinces the faculty in a high degree. He has deviated widely from the usual track upon occasions like the present; and, at the same time, he has deviated with judgment, and given token of the true spirit of independence. He addresses two associations supposed to be deeply imbued with classical partialities. He does not blindly humour these partialities; but boldly confronts, and, just so far as the truth warrants, condemns them. His design is to show the vast superiority [page 58:] which modern intellect and its results maintain over the boasted civilization and proudest mental efforts of even the golden Heathen ages — maintain by the means and through the inspiration of the light of revelation — through the elevated knowledge of a futurity of existence — and through the glowing and burning hopes to which that knowledge of futurity gives rise. This is just such a turn as the man of genius might be led to give to a discourse upon an occasion of the kind, and such as only the man of genius would have given.

Mr. Chandler has not merely well conceived the tenor of his Address, but very ably sustained its execution throughout. If there is, indeed, any one point of his argument with which we could find fault, it is where he yields, in too great measure we think, the palm of eloquence to the ancients, thus weakening his own position. He has not, perhaps, sufficiently borne in mind the distinction between eloquence abstractedly considered, and its positive effects. We might safely grant that the effects of the oratory of Demosthenes were vaster than those produced by the eloquence of any modern, and yet not controvert the idea that the eloquence itself of the modern was equal or superior to that of the Greek. And this we firmly believe is the case. The circumstances of the audience make the important difference in the reception of the oration. The Greeks were a highly excitable and an unread race. They had no printed books. Viva voce exhortations carried with them, to their quick apprehensions and passions, all that gigantic force which the new possesses. These exhortations had, analogically speaking, much of that vivid interest which the first fable has upon the dawning intellect of the child — an interest which is worn away by the frequent perusal of similar things — the [page 59:] frequent inception of similar fancies. The suggestions, the arguments, if any, the incitements of the ancient rhetorician, were, when compared with those of the modern, absolutely novel, and therefore possessed an immense adventitious force — a force which should be taken into consideration in a comparative estimate of the eloquence of the two eras. But the truth is, that even in regard to any given Philippic, and any given modern effort of note, we have few means of rigid comparison. Demosthenes appealed to the passions of a populace; the modern orator struggles to sway the intellect of a deliberative assembly. The finest Philippic of the Greek would have been hooted at in the British House of Commons, but it may well be doubted whether one of Brougham's admirable efforts would not have had its weight, even in Athens.





[S:1 - JAH10, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of an Address delivered before the Goethean and Diagnothian Societies of Marshall College)