Text: Henry Beck Hirst (???) (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. 220-243


[page 220, continued:]


[Philadelphia Saturday Museum, —— — [[January 28]], 1843.]

Here the free spirit of mankind at length

Throws its last fetters off; and who shall place

A limit to the giant’s unchained strength,

Or curb his swiftness in the forward race? — Bryant.

Ere long thine every stream shall find a tongue,

Land of the many waters. — Hoffman. [page 221:]

PERHAPS no work ever appeared whose announcement created a greater sensation among the poetasters of the land, whose editor was so puffed, praised, and glorified in advance, and which was so universally assailed on its advent, as “The Poets and Poetry of America.” Is Mr. — we ask his pardon, — the Reverend Mr. Griswold, the man of varied talents, of genius, of known skill, of overweening intellect, he was somewhere pictured, or is he the arrant literary quack he is now entitled by the American press? If he is a man of genius, or even great talents, signal injustice has been done him; and if not, his assumption of such a character cannot be too sufficiently reprobated. Genius we defined in a former review. The best means to establish a man’s right to the title, is to examine his past course and his present position.

The first knowledge we had of Mr. Griswold was his occupancy of the position of assistant, or junior editor, some years since, to a minor sheet entitled “The New Yorker,” then of the New York “Brother Jonathan,” then in the same capacity to the “Daily Standard,” (a political sheet published in Philadelphia during the Harrison campaign,) under that Atlas of intellect, Francis L. Grund, and finally, on Mr. Grund’s withdrawal from the connection, sole editor. The paper (a notorious fact) immediately fell off in circulation, and died in less than three weeks after his assuming the editorship. We next find him in his former subordinate capacity to the “Boston Notion,” and finally as editor to the “Post,” and “Graham’s Magazine,” or, as it is entitled by that chaste and exquisite sheet, the “New York Herald,” “The American Blackwood.”

After the death of the “Standard,” Carey & Hart [page 222:] announced the present work, and our author arose from comparative insignificance to be the idol of all the poetical editors and would-be great men in America. The book appeared, and “la fleur d’une heure” faded into nothingness.

“Up like a rocket, and down like its stick,”

is a terse epitaph on his career.

One question now remains to be answered: Did the “Jonathan” or the “Notion” attain any higher position than before, during Mr. G.’s connection with them; or have the “Post” and “Graham’s Magazine” improved under his supervision? The “Standard” we leave out of the question, as it expired under his management. Certainly not as to the former; and the brilliant career of “Graham’s Magazine” under Mr. Poe’s care, and its subsequent trashy literary character since his retirement, is a sufficient response. Mr. Griswold’s genius, at least, has not benefited his employers. But that he has no claim to that character is evident, and we do not believe his warmest admirer (if he has one?) will insist on his right to bear the title. That he has some talents we allow, but they are only those of a mediocre character; indeed, every third man one might meet in a day’s walk is his equal, if not his superior. As a critic, his judgment is worthless, for a critic should possess sufficient independence and honesty to mete out justice to all men, without fear, favor, or partiality, as well as be a man of various acquirements, or at least a linguist and classical scholar. Is Mr. Griswold one of these? No! The review department of “Graham’s Magazine,” and its original literary contents, monthly, exhibit ample evidence of his want of taste and inability [page 223:] if not of critical honesty; while its very cover displays his want of judgment in common-sense business matters, and his egotism and petty envy and dislikes of men he dares not openly assail. As an instance, we have the “Principal Contributors,” W. C. Bryant, J. F. Cooper, R. H. Dana, H. W. Longfellow, C. F. Hoffman (horresco referens!), T. C. Grattan, N. P. Willis, and H. W. Herbert, arranged in proper order. We ask, is this in accordance with the age, established reputation, or merits of the several authors?

Are Dana and Hoffman the superiors of N. P. Willis, who has written more beautiful and true poetry than either of them? Is Bryant a better poet than Longfellow? Certainly not, for in Longfellow’s pages the spirit of poetry — ideality — walks abroad, while Bryant’s sole merit is tolerable versification and fine marches of description. Longfellow is unquestionably the best poet in America. These gentlemen would be better placed in alphabetical order, or at least in accordance with their actual merits. In the latter view they might be ranked thus: H. W. Longfellow, W. C. Bryant, N. P. Willis, and R. H. Dana, as poets, and J. F. Cooper and T. C. Grattan, as prose writers; while such names as C. F. Hoffman, whose only merit is his wealth, and H. W. Herbert, who has written more trash than any man living, with the exception of Fay, should be excluded to make room for those of men of more substantial character as writers.

In the “Prospectus,” Mr. Griswold’s self-esteem is strangely developed. Here we have him in his capacity of “author” of the “Poets and Poetry of America,” as thirteenth in the list, and of course superior in rank to Sargent, Benjamin, Simms, Lowell, Thomas, Poe, Hill, our own Conrad (one of the [page 224:] sweetest poets of the time), Greeley, &c., &c., who follow him. Unexampled modesty! In the same list we find C. J. Peterson ranked as the superior of Greeley, Ingraham, Colton, Robert Morris, Reynell Coates, Field, &c.

Again, how modestly our critic puffs himself in his remarks on the “Editorial Department”: — “The criticisms of Graham’s Magazine are acknowledged in all parts of the country to be superior in acumen, honesty, and independence to those of any contemporary. Indeed, while a majority of the monthly and quarterly journals have become mere advertising mediums for the booksellers, in which everything ‘in print’ is indiscriminately praised, this periodical is looked upon as a just and discriminating arbiter between authors and readers, in which both can have implicit confidence.” Pretty well that, for a modest man, Mr. G., particularly in the assumption of praise given to the former editor, to whose criticisms it was awarded, and who, it is well known, made the magazine. Is this, or is this not, sailing under false colors? However, our compiler is right. Any flag is better than his own. And in literature, as in piracy, the free-trader always “runs up” the best at his fore; but had we done this, we should blush at our own impudence in knowing that we had been guilty of one of the most bare-faced pieces of literary swindling of modern days.

Mais, revenons à nos moutons, and a very muttonish production it is — “The Poets and Poetry of America.” Is it fair to condemn Mr. Griswold’s ability to act as a judge and critic of our poets without examining into his poetical and critical competency? Certainly not; and in the premises we shall act justly, generously, and impartially. “Just!” we think we [page 225:] hear our poet exclaim, like the man arraigned for horse-stealing, when told by his judge he should have justice done him. “Justice! plase your Honor’s glory — that’s the very thing I don’t want.” Mr. G., however, claims to be a poet, and deduces from that position his competency to judge of the poetry of others. Let us apply the touchstone to his latest acknowledged article, “THE SUNSET STORM,” published in his (Graham’s) Magazine, September, 1842; and if that does not prove him to possess as little of the divine afflatus, artistical skill, and knowledge of plain English construction, as a Desert of Sahara Arab, let our criticism go for naught.

We shall premise with a short notice of the art of versification; an art which our best poets are ignorant of, or wilfully misunderstand, and which our first writers on Prosody have entirely misrepresented. Cooper, whose grammar is extensively used, defines it to be “The arrangement of a certain number of syllables according to certain laws,” yet lays down no laws for its government, but drops the subject, fearful of burning his fingers. Indeed, all the writers on Prosody, from Brown to Murray, have almost entirely waived the subject, while the little they have said is founded on, and consequently, a mass of — error.

VERSIFICATION is the art by which various feet of equal quantity, though differing in the number of syllables, are arranged in harmonious order, and made to form verse. POETRY, in its most confined sense, is the result of versification, but may be more properly defined as the rhythmical personification of existing or real beauty. One defines it as the “rhythmical creation of beauty;” but though it certainly is a “creation of beauty” in itself, it is more properly [page 226:] a personification, for the poet only personifies the image previously created by his mind.

FEET are the parts of verse by which, when harmoniously associated, the reader steps along, as it were, in a measured manner, through the whole. They are composed of one, two, or three variously accented and unaccented syllables. The only feet admitted by our language are the Iambus, Trochee, Dactyl, Anapæst, and Cæsura. The Tribrach, Amphibrach, and Pyrrhic, though adopted in English Prosody by very erudite writers, never did and never can exist in its poetry. Of these hereafter. We shall use the old marks, a [—], to mark the accented, or long, and the [∪], to mark the unaccented, or short syllables, in our notice of their various kinds.

The IAMBUS is composed of two syllables, one short and one long; as,

“I stand | beneath | the mys | tic moon.”

The TROCHEE, of the same number, but exactly the reverse of the former; as,

“In the | greenest | of our | valleys.”

Here “of” is made long by emphasis.

“In a | sunny, | smiling | valley,”

is a better exemplification of the Trochee.

The SPONDEE is composed of two long syllables; as, “wild wood,” “pale moon,” “wind sown,” and is only used to prevent monotony, or to produce some striking effect in versification. In the commencement of verse the Trochee is preferable. It is likewise the only foot, with the exception of the Cæsura, [page 227:] which cannot be used to form continuous verse. Longfellow thought it might, and murdered harmony most horribly in attempting English Hexameter, a species of verse which, though beautiful in the Latin, can never be introduced in our language, owing to its wanting a sufficient number of Spondees. A language correctly described by Holmes as —

“Our grating English, whose Teutonic jar

Shakes the rack’d axle of Art’s rattling car.”

The DACTYL is a foot composed of three syllables, two short, preceded by one long; as,

“Ragged and | weary one, | where art thou | travelling?”

The ANAPAEST is the converse of the Dactyl; as,

“On a rock | by the O | cean, all lone | ly and sad.”

The CÆSURA — the word is from the Greek, and signifies “a pause” — is a foot composed of one long syllable, equal in quantity to, that is, occupying the same time in pronunciation as, the Dactyl, Anapæst, Iambus, or Trochee. It is properly used in English poetry to give a sonorous close to, or to produce a striking and forcible commencement in verse. We shall give an example from Longfellow, who uses it in the latter case, without knowing of its existence, as a distinct fact.

“In the | market | place of | Bruges | stand the | belfry, | old and | brown.”

Here, by reading the verse, the ear will observe that “brown,” which is the Cæsura, consumes the same time as any of the Trochees of which the line is composed. [page 228:]

All our Prosodists define the Cæsura (and we give the definition in our own words, as it is impossible to form an idea of its use from theirs) as a pause introduced for the purpose of producing harmony, in a single verse or couplet, between “two members of the same verse,” by which the one is placed in direct comparison with the others; as,

“See the bold youth″ strain up the threat’ning steep,

Rush through the thickets,″ down the valleys sweep.”

(″) Being the marks by which they designate the Cæsura which they use, as will be readily perceived, only in an elocutionary sense.

We too use the Cæsura as a pause — a pause compelled by the position of, and upon the foot — of the voice, which renders it equal in quantity to any of the larger feet, and at the same time gives to the close of the verse, where it is most frequently found, a singular richness, as well as sonorous fulness and force. When the Cæsura terminates a verse, the poet can immediately step in the next into another species of foot without producing the slightest discord. The following is an example of its commencing and concluding a stanza:

March! | March! | March!

From the | yawning | grave they | come;

And | thousands | rise, with | lidless | eyes,

As | taps the | fun’ral | drum.

Heavi | ly their | white arms | swinging, |

Clatter, | clatter | on they | go;

Up in | curling | eddies | flinging |

High the | fleecy | snow. [page 229:]

It will be seen that this stanza is scanned precisely as if it were written in one continuous verse, which is the proper mode in, and peculiar to our language; as,

March! | March! | March! | From the | yawning | grave they | come, and | thousands | rise with | lidless | eyes as | taps the | funeral | drum.

the arrangement of the same depending entirely upon the will of the poet.

The Cæsura has been used, “time out of mind,” by all our poets, but with a perfect ignorance of its present character. This discovery, as well as that of the above mode of scansion, was left to Edgar A. Poe, who has spent more time in analyzing the construction of our language than any living grammarian, critic, or essayist. The following is an example of his use of this foot in the “Haunted Palace”:

“In the greenest of our valleys,

By good angels tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace

(Snow-white palace) reared its head.

“In the monarch Thought’s dominion,

It stood there!

Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair.”

With this brief analysis, sufficient to explain the subject, we return to the examination of the “Sunset Storm.”

The sum | mer sun | has sunk | to rest

Very fair, Mr. G.

Below | the green | clad hills.

This is Iambic, the simplest of all verse; yet in [page 230:] the second verse, or as Mr. G. would call it, the second “line,” we have a positive error. “Green clad hills” are three consecutive long syllables, and “clad hills” being a Spondee, has no business in that position in the verse. Mr. Griswold commences with a quiet picture of the sun sinking to rest, which the sun always does quietly, as he ought; and the second should, consequently, harmonize with the preceding verse, to carry out the idea. “Green clad hills” is as harsh as the grating of a coffee-mill.

“The summer sun has sunk to rest

Below the ‘lofty’ hills,”

or any other sort of “hills,” where the adjective is an Iambus, would make it melody. Let us proceed:

“And through | the skies | career | ing fast,

The storm | cloud rides | upon | the blast,

And now | the rain | distills.”

Here the same error is again repeated, “storm-cloud” being, like “green-clad,” a compound word, and distil is spelt with two “ll’s.”

“The flash | we see, | the peal | we hear,

With winds | blent in | their wild | career.”

“Blent in” is the most horrible massacre of harmony we ever encountered. It is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl; neither a Spondee, Trochee, or an Iambus; [page 231:] and, deuce take us! if we know what to make of it. In Christian charity, Mr. G., enlighten us!

“Till pains | the ear.”

A most appropriate verse. It certainly pains our ear to proceed with the next.

“It is | the voice | of the | Storm-King.”

Did any one ever read such delectable doggerel? Did any one ever see such a number of short syllables collected in one “line,” or see such a line published, with a grave face, as poetry? We defy even Mrs. Wood to sing it musically. “The voice” is the only legitimate Iambus in the whole line. “It is,” we are compelled to read “It is,” to make the verse read musically. “Of the” is a Trochee, unless Mr. G. would have us read “of the,” which, from the versification precedent and subsequent, we should imagine he wishes us to do. “Storm-King” is another compound word, and a Spondee.

“Leading | his ban | ner’d hosts | along | the sky,

And drench | ing with | his floods | the ster | ile lands | and dry.”

Here we have a Trochee, “leading,” commencing the verse. This is not objectionable, for it expresses an action — “leading his banner’d hosts.” Its introduction frequently produces a fine artistical and highly poetical effect, and the poet’s as well as the reader’s ear is the best judge when it should be used. We will give one or two examples, since we are riding our favorite horse of versification.

“And loud | ly on | the ev’ | ning’s breath,

Rang the | shrill cry | of sud | den death!” [page 232:]

“Rang the,” a Trochee, followed by the Spondee “shrill cry,” expresses forcibly the actual presence and force of the sound on the breath, that is, over the low murmur of the evening wind. Again, in Byron’s “Childe Harold,”

“The sky | is changed | and such | a change ! | O night!

And storm | and dark | ness! Ye | are wond | rous strong,

Yet love | ly in | your strength | as is | the light

Of a | dark eye | in wo | man. Far — along

From peak | to peak | her rat | tling crags | among

Leaps the | live thun | der! Not | from one | lone cloud,” &c.

Here is the same definite expression of passion and action in “of a dark eye,” and “leaps the live thunder.” You can feel the loveliness of the eye, and hear the crash of, and see the thunder leaping. How different are Mr. Griswold’s and Lord Byron’s descriptions of a storm!

We copy from the same magazine that contains the “Sunset Storm,” for Mr. Griswold’s especial edification, a fine specimen of Iambic verse, and advise him when next he uses that “foot,” to take it as a model. It is from the “Haunted Heart,” by a Miss Mary L. Lawson, whose ear seems to be nearly faultlessly correct.

“Ne’er from his heart the vision fades away;

Amid the crowd, in silence and alone,

The stars by night, the clear blue sky by day,

Bring to his mind the happiness that’s flown; [page 233:]

A tone of song, the warbling of the birds,

The simplest thing that memory endears,

Can still recall the form, the voice, the words

Of her, the best beloved of early years.”

In the same poem we find the following highly finished and descriptive lines:

And watched the rippling currents at they played

In ebb and flow upon the banks of flowers.”

We stand as it were, upon the river’s bank!

We mentioned something before of the use of Spondees in Latin Hexameter, and to make our position perfectly understood, shall quote a few examples from different authors.

“In nova | fert an i | mus mu | ta t as | di ce re | rormas

Corpora | Di coep | tis nam | vos mu | tastis et | il las.”


“Tityre | tu patu | lae recu | bans sub | tegmine | fagi.”


“Nox ru it | et fus | cis tel | lurem, | plectitur | al is.” — IBID.

This last line is written

“Nox ruit et fuscis tellurem amplectitur alis.”

But in the words where “um,” “am,” “em,” or a vowel, occur, the syllable is taken off by elision. Again, where the line commences with a Spondee,

“Felix | qui potu | it re | rum cog | noscere | causas.”


Ergo. Mr. Griswold ought to be happy in knowing his book to be the cause of our review. [page 234:]

Now, gentle reader, is Mr. Griswold a versifier? — we have not touched him as a Poet, — and if not, and we assert he is not, and never was able to understand the first principles of versification, what shall be said of his presumption in becoming the judge of a race of men whose simplest productions are beyond his comprehension? We have more of his poetry (spirits of Pope, Byron, et al., forgive our desecration of the name!) on hand, but in none can we find two correct consecutive lines, nor do we wish to inflict them on the reader. But we have not yet done with the “Sunset Storm.” Independent of its worse than tyro-like versification, it is a heterogeneous compound of sheer, naked nonsense and rank bombast. We shall examine the first verse, that which we have already submitted to scansion, and then, if any one deems Mr. G. a competent judge of true poetry, we hope he will inflict one of his collections upon him annually. Now for it!

“The summer sun has sunk to rest

Below the green-clad hills,

And through the skies careering fast,

The storm-cloud rides upon the blast,

And now the rain distills.”

We pause to credit Mr. G. with a new idea — the clouds distilling rain. We have heard of men distilling whiskey, alcohol, &c., but never before of clouds distilling rain.

“The flash we see, the peal we hear,

With winds blent in their wild career,

Till pains the ear.”

“The flash” of what do we see? “The peal” of what do “we hear? Is lightning and thunder to be understood, or is it the flash and peal of the storm? [page 235:] If the latter is meant, it is another new idea. If the former — but it is not said, — how can “winds” be “blent in” with a flash of lightning? Mr. G., Mr. G., you are as mystical as Kant, and as incomprehensible as Wordsworth, without possessing the slightest claim to the common sense of either.

“It is the voice of the storm-king

Riding upon the lightning’s wing.”

We are now informed that this “blent in” mixture is

— “the voice of the storm-king

Riding upon the lightning’s wing.”

and we are happy to hear it. It is no wonder dairy-women complain of their milk being curdled the morning after a storm.

“Leading his banner’d hosts along the sky,

And drenching with his floods the sterile lands and dry.”

Is this even good grammar? Is it “the voice” or “the Storm King” “leading his banner’d hosts along the sky”? Tell us that!

Did any one ever read such nonsense? We never did, and shall hereafter eschew everything that bears Rufus Wilmot Griswold’s name, as strongly as the Moslemite the forbidden wine, or the Jew the “unmentionable flesh.” But we must say, ere we leave the “Sunset Storm,” that, with the exception of Mathews’ “Wakondah,” Pop Emmons’ “Fredoniad,” and some portions of Hoffman’s “Vigil of Faith,” the world never even saw such balderdash.

We defined Poetry “to be the rhythmical personification of existing or ideal beauty;” and here we shall give a vivid example of our idea, an example which even Mr. Griswold acknowledges “to possess [page 236:] a statue-like definitiveness and warmth of coloring.” It is the “Sleeping Beauty,” by Tennyson, — the most perfect conception of loveliness we ever saw, or ever expect to see, and had Tennyson written nothing else, it would have made him immortal.

“Year after year unto her feet,

(She lying on her couch alone,)

Along the purple coverlet

The maiden’s jet-black hair has grown;

On either side her trancèd form

Forth streaming from a braid of pearl;

The slumbrous light is rich and warm,

And moves not on the rounded curl.

The silk, star-broider’d coverlet

Unto her limbs itself doth mould

Languidly ever; and, amid

The full black ringlets downward rolled,

Glows forth each softly-shadow’d arm

With bracelets of the diamond bright;

Her constant beauty doth inform

Stillness with love, and day with light.

She sleeps! her breathings are not heard,

In palace chambers far apart

The fragrant tresses are not stirred

That lie upon her charmèd heart.

She sleeps! on either hand up swells

The gold-fring’d pillow lightly prest:

She sleeps, nor dreams, but ever dwells,

A perfect form, in perfect rest.”

In the first place, this is a legitimate subject of poetry, finished with the highest artistical skill, burning with genius and ideality, and secondly it conveys to the mind in the very title that richest image of loveliness — a sleeping woman! Words cannot convey our conception of its beauty, nor our homage to the genius of its author. The italicised lines are the finest passages. [page 237:]

Now for Mr. Griswold’s critical powers. We shall quote some few passages from one of his latest reviews, and that on the works of the author of the Charmed Sleeper, — Alfred Tennyson, whose genius and originality have excited the imitative faculties of the principal poets of America. “His chief characteristics pertaining to style, they will not long attract regard.” Here we have a gross grammatical error — two nominatives to one verb, “characteristics” and “they” to “will.” “He tricks out common thoughts in dresses so unique it is not always easy to identify them.” (Is not this originality? Yet in the next portion of the sentence we hear this sapient critic say,) “but we have not seen in his works proofs of an original mind.” (O tempora! O mores!) This Griswold says of Tennyson! Again, “as a versifier, Holmes is equal to Tennyson, and with the same patient effort would every way surpass him.” (We advise Dr. Holmes, who does possess some merit as a versifier, to beg Mr. G. not to puff him, or he may depend upon his poems being incontinently d—d.) “We desire none of his companionship.” (Don’t you hope you may get it?) “Him who stole at first hand from Keats.” Well, if this is not the height of assurance we don’t know what assurance is, coming as it does from one of the most clumsy of literary thieves, and who, in his wildest aspirations, never even dreamed of an original thought. A man who does not understand the first principles of versification, the author of the “Sunset Storm;” and to speak thus of such a man as Tennyson, the author of the Sleeping Beauty we have just quoted! We can only say to Mr. Griswold, Jove protect us from his reviewing, and the public from what he deems exquisite. [page 238:] These remarks are from a man whose extravagant praise of Puffer Hopkins, one of the most abortive emanations ever issued from an American press, has been the daily ridicule of the whole community, and even of his own most intimate friends. A book which he stamps “as original,” which is the most palpable imitation of Boz’s style, and, like all imitations, only so upon the surface, wanting anything like genuine wit, pathos, or profundity, whose serious passages are extremely ridiculous, and whose comic wonderfully tragic.

Now for the Book! the “POETS AND POETRY OF AMERICA.” As regards its typography and execution, it is very, very neat, and the lines around give a compactness and finish perfectly desirable to the appearance of its pages.

Let us commence with the delectable matter which constitutes Mr. Griswold’s original portion of the “Poets of America.” In the first place we have the preface.

It is said that the principles of our fathers are beginning to be regarded with indifference.” Who has said this, Mr. G.? Is the name or the principles of a Washington or Jefferson beginning to be obliterated in our hearts? Does not every American’s bosom burn when he reads their names, or hears them promulgated from the rostrum? And the bursting huzzas from every lip at such a moment as the last, how well they speak that “the principles of our fathers are beginning to be regarded with indifference.” Is “love of country decayingand arethe affections of our people in that transition state from the simplicity of Democracy to the gilded shows of Aristocratic government?” Perish the scandal! “Our national tastes [page 239:] and feelings are fashioned by the subject of kings.” Are we to understand this as a poetical license or not, for with these facts staring us in the face we cannot but imagine you’ve told a good many poetical lies since you have been in the business? If — and you assert it in set round terms — you think so, you are wrong. They are not so; at least by the majority, though they may be by the foolish few miscalled “the first circle of society!” — the worshippers of an Ellsler, a Morpeth, or an Ashburton, whose only merit is their wealth, and whose intellects rarely expand beyond the cut of a coat or the fashion of a mantilla. After reading such opinions promulgated, who can think our compiler a fit man to judge of American poetry, even had he possessed the competency? But Mr. G. is going to Europe, and there his opinions will meet with support.

Let us proceed. Ah! what have we here? “The creation of beauty, the manifestation of the real by the ideal, in words that move in metrical array, is poetry.” Now what is this but a direct amplification by our poet, of the definition of poetry — “the rhythmical creation of beauty” — which appeared in Mr. Poe’s critique on Professor Longfellow’s ballads, from which we know and he knows he stole it?

Well, we have looked over the book, and we find it just such a result as might be anticipated. The biographies are miserably written, and as to the criticisms on style, they are certainly not critiques raisonnées, and that simply because reason and thinking are entirely out of Mr. G.’s sphere. As to the different degrees of merit allotted to each author, we cannot help thinking it possible, but we will not say it, that sub rosa arrangements were made, and a proportionable [page 240:] quantity of fame allotted, in consideration of the quid pro quo received. Besides, the whole work is not even a specimen of the Poets and Poetry of America; and in giving it our unqualified condemnation, we only cite the opinion of all, even to the Poets who have been so unfortunate as to figure in its pages, and we are satisfied our review will be met with vivas wherever the book has been seen or read.

Now we want to know one thing: Is writing Poetry the exclusive privilege of the aristocracy of our country? for we are so led to imagine by finding no poor writers in this work. No! They are all “descended from ancient and honored families,” “the sons of wealthy members of the Society of Friends,” or of “eminent lawyers,” or “wealthy merchants,” “wealthy lawyers,” themselves, &c., &c., ad infinitum. How comes this? It is answered in a word. Mr. G. belongs to the class called “toady;” and as he is very ambitious of one day acquiring a position, can have no fellow-feeling for the class he would leave behind him. To this, and this alone, (and Mr. G. knows we speak — and it is as unpleasant for us to say as it is for him to hear it — the truth,) two-thirds of the poets owe even the transitory reputation they have acquired in this miserable book. And now that we feel in the vein, we shall propound to Mr. Griswold a few questions. Why was Robert Tyler, the author of Ahasuerus, &c., omitted? Why was Frederick W. Thomas insulted with a place as the author of one song, among the miscellaneous writers, after his having been written to, and “his biography and best articles” solicited? Was it not because he did not obey your dictatorial and impertinent request to write for you the biography of Mrs. Welby? Answer us [page 241:] that, Mr. Griswold! How comes it that C. Fenno Hoffman is the greatest poet in America, and that his articles figure more than two to one over Bryant, and ten to one over Lowell, Longfellow, &c.? Why were Edward Everett, LL.D., John Quincy Adams, Samuel Woodworth, (the insult might have been spared the dying poet,) Robert M. Bird, M.D., J. K. Mitchell, M.D., Sarah J. Hale, George P. Morris, Rev. William B. Tappan, Catharine H. Esling (or Miss Waterman, as she is better known), Horace Greeley, Seba Smith, Charles West Thompson, Rev. Charles W. Everest, Lieut. G. W. Patten, William Wallace (author of the Star Lyra, &c.), Mrs. Frances S. Osgood (one of our sweetest poetesses), James N. Barker, &c., &c., classed under the head of “various authors,” thereby throwing openly the charge of their incompetency to sustain the name of Poets, and implying that they were only occasional scribblers? (This, and of such men, is again from Rufus Wilmot Griswold !)

Are there no such persons in existence as Anna Cora Mowatt, Lydia J. Pierson, Juliet H. Lewis, Mrs. Harriet Muzzy, Mrs. E. C. Stedman, &c.? And if so, have they never written poetry? And if they have, why are they omitted?

Shame on such black injustice, which is made the blacker by imposing men, of whom no one ever heard out of their own parlors, upon the public as poets, and that above their superiors in genius, talent, artistical skill, and brilliant flow of ideality and language!

Again, how came you to alter Dr. J. K. Mitchell’s song in such a manner that the author scarcely knows his own production? Just think of the impudence of the thing — Rufus Wilmot Griswold altering a production [page 242:] of Dr. J. K. Mitchell! And now that we are in our own city, has it no poets? Are Dr. Mitchell, C. West Thompson, and Catharine H. Esling only worthy to appear in one article in your contemptible appendix? Where is the Hon. Robert T. Conrad? You surely could not have forgotten him, for his “Aylmere” has been the most successful of American Tragedies, and he is the author of some of the finest poems known in American literature. Where is Professor Walter, Morton McMichael, Robert Morris (another sweet poet), the Rev. T. H. Stockton, and Dr. English? How came you to forget Mr. Spear, who was once placed by the Courier, if we remember aright, close to Shakspeare, and somewhere between Cowper and Goldsmith? We might name others. However, all these gentlemen should be gratified at their non-appearance in the volume before us, for if ever such a thing as literary ruin existed, or exists, nine-tenths of the Poets (!) of America are ruined forever by the praise of Mr. Griswold! This is our unvarnished opinion; and as we have established the fact of our knowing something of Poetry and its concomitants, and that Mr. Griswold is as ignorant of it and them as a Kickapoo Indian, we fancy it will pass for current coin.

But to close this affair. Had Mr. Griswold the genius of Shakspeare, the powers of a Milton, or the critical learning of a Macaulay, he could not stem the torrent of animadversion this book has raised; but must be overwhelmed by the tide of public disapprobation which has set in so strongly upon him; but as he has neither the one nor the other, what will be his fate? Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without [page 243:] leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or, if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust.(1)


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 243:]

1.  “The tone of Poe’s critique of Griswold, in his review of the “Poets and Poetry of America’ ” (says Mr. W. F. Gill, “Life of Poe,” Chatto & Windus, 1878, by whose courtesy we are enabled to reproduce this essay), “which unquestionably inspired the reverend doctor’s malignant hatred, scathing as it is, will impress the reader with its outspoken manliness and integrity of purpose. What a contrast to the biography that, while undermining the very foundations of Poe’s moral and social character, yet hypocritically professes to be dictated by friendship, and written in a ‘generous spirit’!” (p. 247). — ED.



The attribution of this review has been hotly debated, but it is generally assigned as being written by Henry Beck Hirst. If Hirst is the author, he has clearly written the review after some discussion with Poe, as it contains some information which only Poe would have had, such as the issue with F. W. Thomas being asked to write a biography of Amelia Welby. The strongest proponent of Poe as the author of the review was Burton R. Pollin, who remained utterly convinced of this idea at the time of his death in 2009.

Due to limitations of HTML and XHTML, it has not been practical to reproduce in the present text the special marks over words in some of the quoted lines of poetry, denoting the meter. At some point, this problem will be revisted.


[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)