Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Pic Nic Papers,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 206-209


[page 206, continued:]


[Graham’s Magazine, November, 1841.]

THE “Introduction” to this work gives us its history. “The premature death of a young publisher (Mr. Macrone) inspired some of those who had known him personally, or had been connected with him in business, with an earnest desire to render some assistance to his widow and orphans. They produced among themselves this work.” In the English edition there were three volumes, the third consisting of the “Charcoal Sketches” of Mr. Joseph C. Neal, of Philadelphia. This edition we have not seen; but have been astonished [page 207:] to hear that the London publisher has been so discourteous as to print Mr. Neal’s compositions, and the engravings which accompanied them, without the name of the writer, or any farther acknowledgment than a few words speaking of the whole as “from an American source.” Comment upon such meanness seems altogether a work of supererogation; but, in truth, we are in the habit of setting our brethren across the water very bad examples in matters of a somewhat similar kind. That Mr. Dickens had anything to do with the wrong now perpetrated, we will not, however, believe for a moment.

The contributors to the two volumes reprinted in Philadelphia are among the most celebrated literati of England. We have, for example, articles from Dickens, from Leigh Ritchie, Allan Cunningham, Thomas Moore, W. H. Ainsworth, G. P. R. James, Agnes Strickland, and several others. It might be supposed, of course, that the collection would be one of high interest; but we are forced to say that it is not. In a case like this, authors (who for the most part are unburthened with pecuniary means) are called upon to furnish gratuitous papers. It is not surprising that, under such circumstances, they content themselves with bestowing whatever Ms. they may have at hand, of least value. Scraps of memorandum-books; effusions of early years kept only as mementos and never destined for publication; fragments of tales or essays definitely abandoned by the author, who has become dissatisfied with his subject or the mode in which it was progressing — matters such as these form invariably the staple of compilations such as this. There is, moreover, another important consideration — one involving a very remarkable truth. The refuse labour of [page 208:] a man of genius is usually inferior, and greatly so, to that of a man of common-place talent — very much as the dregs of the Côtes du Rhône are more viscid than those of Sherry or De Grave. It is only necessary to suggest this idea to have it at once fully appreciated and understood. The man of talent pursues “the even tenor of his way.” He is at all times himself. With the all-prevalent law of action and reaction he has nothing to do. Never excited into wild enthusiasm, he never experiences its consequent and inevitable depression. Never boldly soaring, he never sadly sinks. To write well, the man of genius must write in obedience to his impulses. When forced to disobey them; when constrained, by fetters of a methodical duty, to compose at all hours, it is but a portion of his nature — it is but a condition of his intellect — that he should occasionally grovel in platitudes of the most pitiable description. And this fact will go farther than any one hitherto adduced, to explain the character of a fatality which has so constantly attended genius as to become a sure index of its existence — we mean the fatality of alternate high eulogium and virulent invective. Few men are conversant with the whole works of an author. Now, in the case of two critics of equal ability, it may happen (and we know that it does frequently so happen) that the opinion of one may be based solely upon the author’s best efforts, while that of the other is deduced from some mere task-work laboured out in hours of the most utter inappetency and exhaustion. The dissent of the latter (a dissent just if we regard the means of judgment) will, of course, be extravagant in denunciation, precisely in the ratio of his astonishment and indignation at what he supposes the corrupt panegyric of the former. [page 209:]

Therefore, it should not be a matter for surprise that these “Pic Nic Papers” are very great trash, although written by very clever men. Their general merit, in our opinion, is below that of the mere make-weight of our commonest newspapers and magazines. One or two of the articles are not very bad: Leigh Ritchie’s “Marcus Bell,” for example; a tale entitled “Aunt Honor,” and “The Lamplighter’s Story,” by Mr. Dickens. This last, however, is only tolerable through the manner in which it is told. There is not a single paper of real value; and more consummate nonsense than the greater portion of the collection we never encountered in any respectable-looking book.

We cannot conclude our notice without a protest against the title-page. To call this paltry publication the “Pic Nic Papers,” and affirm it to be edited by Mr. Dickens — thus inducing ideas of the popular Pickwick, is a piece of chicanery which not even the end in view can sanction. No body of men are justified in making capital of the public’s gullibility for purposes of charity, public or private — for any purposes under the sun. We do not hesitate to state the present case plainly. The title affixed to this work has been designedly so affixed, that purchasers, hastily glancing at it, may suppose it a book upon the same plan as the “Pickwick Papers,” and written, as they were, by Mr. Dickens. No one who reflects for an instant can suppose the intention to have been anything else. Now what is this but the worst species of forgery?





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Pic Nic Papers)