Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Brook Farm,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XIII: Literary Criticism - part 06 (1902), pp. 27-32


[page 27, continued:]


[Broadway Journal, Dec. 13, 1845.]

“THE HARBINGER — edited by “The Brook-Farm Phalanx” is, beyond doubt, the most reputable organ of the Crazyites. We sincerely respect it — odd as this assertion may appear. It is conducted by an assemblage of well-read persons who mean no harm — and who, perhaps, can do less. Their objects are honorable, and so forth — all that anybody can understand of them — and we really believe that Mr. Albert Brisbane and one or two other ladies and gentlemen understand all about them that is necessary to be understood. But what we, individually, have done to “The Harbinger,” or what we have done to “The Brook-Farm [page 28:] Phalanx,” that “The Brook-Farm Phalanx” should stop the ordinary operations at Brook-Farm for the purpose of abusing us, is a point we are unable to comprehend. If we have done anything to affront “The Brook-Farm Phalanx” we will make an apology forthwith — provided “The Brook-Farm Phalanx” (which we have a great curiosity to see) will just step into our office, which is 304 Broadway.

In the mean time, by way of doing penance for any unintentional offence that we may have given “The Phalanx” we will just copy verbatim, a very severe lesson it has been lately reading to ourselves.


Mr. Poe has earned some fame by various tales and poems, which late has become notoriety through a certain blackguard warfare which he has been waging against the poets and newspaper critics of New England, and which it would be most charitable to impute to insanity. Judging from the tone of his late articles in the “Broadway Journal,” he seems to think that the whole literary South and West are doing anxious battle in his person against the old time-honored tyrant of the North. But what have North or South to do with affairs only apropos to Poe? He shows himself a poet in this, at least, in the magnifying mirror of his own importance. To him facts lose their barren literality — to him a primrose is more than a primrose; and Edgar Poe, acting the constabulary part of a spy in detecting plagiarisms in favorite authors, insulting a Boston audience, inditing coarse editorials against respectable editresses, and getting singed himself the meanwhile, is nothing less than the hero of a grand mystic conflict of the elements. [page 29:]

The present volume is not entirely pure of this controversy, else we should ignore the late scandalous courses of the man, and speak only of the “Poems.” The motive of the publication is too apparent; it contains the famous Boston poem, together with other juvenilities, which, he says, “private reasons — some of which have reference to the sin of plagiarism, and others to the date of Tennyson’s first poems” — have induced him to republish. Does he mean to intimate that he is suspected of copying Tennyson? In vain have we searched the poems for a shadow of resemblance. Does he think to convict Tennyson of copying him? Another of those self-exaggerations which prove, we suppose, his poetic imagination.

In a sober attempt to get at the meaning and worth of these poems as poetry, we have been not a little puzzled. We must confess they have a great deal of power, a great deal of beauty, (of thought frequently, and always of rhythm and diction,) originality, and drarnatic effect. But they have more of effect than of expression; to adopt a distinction from musical criticism; and if they attract you to a certain length, it is only to repulse you the more coldly at last. There is a wild unearthliness, and unheavenliness, in the tone of all his pictures, a strange unreality in all his thoughts; they seem to stand shivering, begging admission to our hearts in vain, because they look not as if they came from the heart. The ill-boding “Raven,” which you meet at the threshold of his edifice, is a fit warning of the hospitality you will find inside. And yet the “Raven” has great beauty, and has won the author some renown; we were fascinated till we read it through; then we hated to look at it, or think of it again: why was that? There is something in it of the true grief of a lover, an imagination of a broken-heartedness enough to prove a lover in earnest; a power of strange, sad melody, which there is no resisting. So there is in all his poems. Mr. Poe has made a critical study of the matter of versification, and succeeded in the art rather at the expense of nature. Indeed the impression of a very [page 30:] studied effect is always uppermost after reading him. And you have to study him to understand him. This you would count no loss, if, when you had followed the man through his studies, you could find anything in them beyond the man and his most motiveless moods, which lead you nowhere; if you could find anything better at bottom than the pride of originality. What is the fancy which is merely fancy, the beauty which springs from no feeling, which neither illustrates nor promotes the great rules and purposes of life, which glimmers strangely only because it is aside from the path of human destiny? Edgar Poe does not write for Humanity; he has more of the art than the soul of poetry. He affects to despise the world while he writes for it. He certainly has struck out a remarkable course: the style and imagery of his earliest poems mark a very singular culture, a judgment most severe for a young writer, and a familiarity with the less hacknied portions of classic lore and nomenclature. He seems to have lead an idea of working out his forms from pure while marble. But the poet’s humility is wanting; a morbid egotism repels you. He can affect you with wonder, but rarely with the thrill of any passion, except perhaps of pride, which might be dignity, and which therefore always is interesting. We fear this writer even courts the state described by Tennyson:

A glorious devil, large in heart and brain,

That did love beauty only, (beauty seen

In all varieties of mould and mind,)

And knowledge for its beauty; or if good,

Good only for its beauty, seeing not

That Beauty, Good, and Knowledge, are three sisters

That doat upon each other, friends to man,

Living together under the same roof,

And never can be sundered without tears;

And he that shuts Love out, in turn shall be

Shut out by Love, and on her threshold lie

Howling in utter darkness. [page 31:]

There is something in all this which we really respect — an evident wish to he sincere, pervading the whole tone of the sermon — an anxious determination to speak the truth — at least as far as convenient. The Brook Farm Phalanx talks to us, in short, “like a Dutch uncle,” and we shall reply to it, very succinctly, in the same spirit.

“Very charitable to impute to insanity.” Insanity is a word that the Brook Farm Phalanx should never be brought to mention under any circumstances whatsoever. “No more of that, Hal, an ye love me.”

“The time-honored tyrant of the North.” Very properly τυραννος not βασιλευς. King Log at best. The sceptre is departed.

“Insulting a Boston audience” — very true — meant to do it — and did.

“Getting singed in return.” The singeing [[sic]] refers, we presume, to the doubling, in five weeks, the circulation of the “Broadway Journal.”

“Motive of the publication too apparent.” “The Raven, etc.,” was in the publishers’ hands a month or six weeks before we received the invitation from the Lyceum — and we read the last proofs on the evening before that on which we “insulted the Boston audience.” On these points The Brook Farm Phalanx are referred to Messrs. Wiley and Putnam.

“Discover no shade of resemblance to Tennyson.” Certainly not — we never could discover any ourselves. Our foot-note (quoted by the Phalanx) has reference to an article written by Mr. Charles Dickens in the London Foreign Quarterly Review. Mr. Dickens in paying us some valued, though injudicious compliments, concluded by observing, that “we had all [page 32:] Tennyson’s spirituality, and might he considered as the best of his imitators” — words to that effect. Our design has been merely to demonstrate (should a similar accusation again be made) that the poems in question were published before Tennyson had written at all.

“Has acquired some renown by the Raven.” We cannot approve of the “some” especially in the mouths of those worshippers of Truth, The Brook Farm Phalanx.

The Brook Farm Phalanx knows very well — and so do we — that no American poem gained for its author even one half so much “renown” in the same period of time. The renown is quite as small a thing as the poem — and we have therefore no scruple in alluding to it — although we do so only because it shocks us to hear a set of respectable Crazyites talking in so disingenuous a manner. Reform it altogether, or give up preaching about Truth.

As for the rest, we believe it is all leather and prunella — the opinion of “The Snook Farm Phalanx.” We do trust that, in future, “The Snook Farm Phalanx” will never have any opinion of us at all.





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