Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of The Wigwam and the Cabin,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 247-250


[page 247, continued:]


[Broadway Journal, Oct. 4, 1845.]

THIS is one of the most interesting numbers of the Library yet published — and decidedly the most American of the American books. “The Wigwam and the Cabin” is merely a general or generic title; — the volume is a collection of tales most of which were written for the Annuals, and thus have failed in circulating among the masses of the people. We are truly glad to see them in a compact form. [page 248:]

In a recent number of our Journal we spoke of Mr. Simms as “the best novelist which this country has, upon the whole, produced;” and this is our deliberate opinion. We take into consideration, of course, as well the amount of what he has written, as the talent he has displayed; — he is the Lopez de Vega of American writers of fiction. His merits lie among the major and his defects among the minor morals of literature. His earlier works of length, such as “The Partisan,” were disfigured by many inaccuracies of style, and especially by the prevalence of the merely repulsive, where the horrible was the object — but in invention, in vigor, in movement, in the power of exciting interest, and in the artistical management of his themes, he has surpassed, we think, any of his countrymen: — that is to say, he has surpassed any of them in the aggregate of these high qualities. His best fictions, in our opinion, are “Martin Faber” (one of his first tales, if not his very first published one); “Beauchampe”; “Richard Hurdis”; “Castle Dismal”; “Helen Halsey”; and “Murder Will Out.” “Martin Faber” has been said to resemble “Miserrimus” — and in fact we perceive that the individual minds which originated the two stories have much in them of similarity — but as regards the narratives themselves, or even their tone, there is no resemblance whatever. “Martin Faber” is the better work of the two. “Beauchampe” is intensely interesting; but the historical truth has somewhat hampered and repressed the natural strength of the artist. “Richard Hurdis” is the perfection of rough vigor in conception and conduct — a very powerful book. “Castle Dismal” is one of the most original fictions ever penned and deserves all that order of commendation which the critics lavished upon Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. No [page 249:] man of imagination can read this story without admitting instantly the genius of its author; — still the narrative has important defects. “Helen Halsey” is more “correct” (in the French sense of the word) but less meritorious upon the whole. We believe it is a favorite with its author; and the public have received it with marked approbation. “Murder Will Out” is the first and the most meritorious of the series now lying before us. We have no hesitation in calling it the best ghost-story we ever read. It is full of the richest and most vigorous imagination — is forcibly conceived — and detailed throughout with a degree of artistic skill which has had no parallel among American story-tellers since the epoch of Brockden Brown.

The other tales of the volume are all excellent in their various ways. Their titles are “The Two Camps, a Legend of the Old North State”; “The Last Wager, or the Gamester of the Mississippi”; “The Arm-Chair of Tustenugge, a Tradition of the Catawba”; “The Snake of the Cabin”; “Oakatibbe, or the Choctaw Sampson”; and “Jocassee, a Cherokee Legend.” The author says of them, in an advertisement — “The material employed will be found to illustrate, in large degree, the border history of the South. I can speak with confidence of the general truthfulness of its treatment. The life of the planter, the squatter, the Indian and the negro — the bold and hardy pioneer and the vigorous yeomen — these are the subjects. In their delineation I have mostly drawn from living portraits, and, in frequent instances, from actual scenes and circumstances within the memories of men.”

Mr. Simms has exercised a very remarkable influence upon the literature of his country — more especially [page 250:] upon that of its Southern regions — nor do we regard this influence as in any degree the less important because a Mr. William A. Jones “regards slightingly the mass of his romantic and poetical efforts.” We shall speak again of “The Cabin and The Wigwam,” and in the meantime we quote a passage from “Murder Will Out.” Our readers must bear in mind, however, the absolute impossibility of conveying, by extract, any just conception of a story whose main element is its skilful adaptation of parts:

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