Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Poets and Poetry of America,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XI: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 124-126


[page 124:]


[Graham’s Magazine, June, 1842.]

THIS is the best collection of the American Poets that has yet been made, whether we consider its completeness, its size, or the judgment displayed in its selection. The volume is issued in a style commensurate with its literary worth. The paper, type and printing are unexceptionable. Messrs. Carey & Hart have, in “The Poets and Poetry of America,” published the finest volume of the season.

The editor begins his selections of American Poets with Freneau, prefacing them, however, with an historical introduction evincing considerable research. In this introduction he shows that, prior to the revolution, the pretenders to the muse in the colonies scarcely rose to the level of versifiers. From Freneau downwards, the chain is kept up to the youngest poet of the day. About eighty-eight authors are embraced in the body of the work. To the selections from each author is prefixed a short but clear biography. The editor has not always been guided, in making his selections, by the relative merit of the various authors, but, in cases where the writers have published editions of their poems, he has been less copious in his extracts, than when the poet has left his works to take care of themselves. Thus we have the whole of Dana’s “Buccanier,” of Whittier’s “Mogg Magone,” of Sprague’s “Curiosity,” and of Drake’s “Culprit Fay.” Most [page 125:] of C. Fenno Hoffman’s songs are also included in the collection. But Pierpont’s “Airs of Palestine” are excluded, as are the longer and best poems of Willis. At the end of the volume is an appendix, in which about fifty writers, whom the editor has not thought worthy of a place in the body of his book, figure under the name of “Various Authors.” Such is the plan of the work. A word, in detail, on its merits.

We have said that this volume is superior to any former collection of the American Poets, whether we regard its size, its completeness, or the taste displayed in the selections. This is our general opinion of the book. We do not, however, always coincide with the judgment of the editor. There are several writers in the Appendix who have as good claims to appear in the body of the work, as others who figure largely in the latter more honorable station. There are many mere versifiers included in the selection who should have been excluded, or else others who have been left out should have been admitted. Perhaps the author, without being aware of it himself, has unduly favored the writers of New England. Instances of all these faults will be noticed by the reader, and we need not further allude to them.

The editor has scarcely done justice to some of our younger poets, either in his estimate of their genius, or in his selections from their poems. A glaring instance of this is the case of LOWELL, a young poet, to whom others than ourselves have assigned a genius of the highest rank. We would have been better pleased to have seen a more liberal notice of his poems. We know that, with the exception of “Rosaline,” better selections might have been made from his works. A few years hence, Mr. Griswold himself will be amazed [page 126:] that he assigned no more space to LOWELL than to M’Lellan, Tuckerman, and others of “οι πολλοι

Holmes is another instance of an injustice done an author by the editor’s selections. The author of “Old Ironsides” has written better poems than that, all about the old man, of whom

“My grandmamma has said —

Poor old lady! she is dead

Long ago —

That he had a Roman nose,

And his cheek was like a rose

In the snow.”

And again,

“I know it is a sin

For me to sit and grin

At him here,

But the old three-cornered hat,

And the breeches — and all that,

Are so queer!”

Little more can be said in the way of criticism, unless we should follow up these remarks by further examples in detail. For this we have no inclination, since, after all, the book, as a whole, is one of high merit; and from the very nature of the work, it is impossible for an editor to produce a faultless volume. A thorough analysis of the book might induce many, whose minds are not comprehensive, to think it a bad, instead of what it really is, a good work.





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of The Poets and Poetry of America)