Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Marginalia (Items 1-45),” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. III, 1875, pp. 347-371


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[page 347, unnumbered:]

MARGINALIA

IN getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.

All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice; — yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure; which is profit, in despite of Mr. Bentham with Mr. Mill on his back.

This making of notes, however, is by no means the making of mere memoranda — a custom which has its disadvantages, beyond doubt. “Ce que je mets sur papier,” says Bernardin de St. Pierre, “je remets de ma mémoire, et par consequence je l’oublie;” — and, in fact, if you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.

But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value. They have a rank somewhat above the chance and desultory comments of literary chit-chat — for these latter are not unfrequently “talk for talk’s sake,” hurried out of the mouth; while the marginalia are deliberately pencilled, because the mind of the reader wishes [page 348:] to unburthen itself of a thought; — however flippant — however silly — however trivial — still a thought indeed, not merely a thing that might have been a thought in time, and under more favourable circumstances. In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonnement — without conceit — much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which, being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed, — a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.

The circumscription of space, too, in these pencillings, has in it something more of advantage than of inconvenience. It compels us (whatever diffuseness of idea we may clandestinely entertain), into Montesquieu-ism, into Tacitus-ism (here I leave out of view the concluding portion of the “Annals”) — or even into Carlyle-ism — a thing which, I have been told, is not to be confounded with your ordinary affectation and bad grammar. I say “bad grammar,” through sheer obstinacy, because the grammarians (who should know better) insist upon it that I should not. But then grammar is not what these grammarians will have it; and, being merely the analysis of language, with the result of this analysis, must be good or bad just as the analyst is sage or silly — just as he is a Horne Tooke or a Cobbett.

But to our sheep. During a rainy afternoon, not long ago, being in a mood too listless for continuous study, I sought relief from ennui in dipping here and there, at random, among the volumes of my library — no very large one, certainly, but sufficiently miscellaneous; and, I flatter myself, not a little recherché.

Perhaps it was what the Germans call the “brain-scattering” humour of the moment; but, while the picturesqueness of the numerous pencil-scratches arrested my attention, their helter-skelter-iness of commentary amused me. I found myself at length, forming a wish that it had been some other hand than my own which had so bedevilled [page 349:] the books, and fancying that, in such case, I might have derived no inconsiderable pleasure from turning them over. From this the transition-thought (as Mr. Lyell, or Mr. Murchison, or Mr. Featherstonhaugh would have it) was natural enough: — there might be something even in my scribblings which, for the mere sake of scribbling, would have interest for others.

The main difficulty respected the mode of transferring the notes from the volumes — the context from the text — without detriment to that exceedingly frail fabric of intelligibility in which the context was imbedded. With all appliances to boot, with the printed pages at their back, the commentaries were too often like Dodona’s oracles — or those of Lycophron Tenebrosus — or the essays of the pedant’s pupils, in Quintilian, which were “necessarily excellent, since even he (the pedant) found it impossible to comprehend them”: — what, then, would become of it — this context — if transferred? — if translated? Would it not rather be traduit (traduced) which is the French synonym, or overzezet (turned topsv-turvy) which is the Dutch one?

I concluded, at length, to put extensive faith in the acumen and imagination of the reader: — this as a general rule. But, in some instances, where even faith would not remove mountains, there seemed no safer plan than so to re-model the note as to convey at least the ghost of a conception as to what it was all about. Where, for such conception, the text itself was absolutely necessary, I could quote it; where the title of the book commented upon was indispensable, I could name it. In short, like a novel-hero dilemma’d, I made up my mind “to be guided by circumstances,” in default of more satisfactory rules of conduct.

As for the multitudinous opinion expressed in the subjoined farrago — as for my present assent to all, or dissent from any portion of it — as to the possibility of my having, in some instances, altered my mind — or as to the impossibility of my not having altered it often — these are points upon which I say nothing, because upon these there can be nothing cleverly said. It may be as well to observe, however, that just as the goodness of your true pun is in [page 350:] the direct ratio of its intolerability, so is nonsense the essential sense of the Marginal Note.

I. — ABUSIVE PARAGRAPHS. [[M-163]]

I never read a personally abusive paragraph in the newspapers, without calling to mind the pertinent query propounded by Johnson to Goldsmith: — “My dear Doctor, what harm does it do a man to call him Holofernes?”

II. — ADAM. [[M-105]]

How thoroughly comprehensive is the account of Adam, as given at the bottom of the old picture in the Vatican! — “Adam, divinitus edoctus, primus scientiarum et literarum inventor.”

III. — THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR. [[M-228]]

The Romans worshipped their standards; and the Roman standard happened to be an eagle. Our standard is only one-tenth of an Eagle — a Dollar — but we make all even by adoring it with ten-fold devotion.

IV. — AMERICA. [[M-184]]

It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about “Appalachia.” In the first place, it is distinctive. “America”* is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to us it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is “America,” and will insist upon remaining so. In the second place, “Appalachia” is indigenous, springing from one of the most magnificent and distinctive features of the country itself. Thirdly, in employing this word we do honour to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we [page 351:] have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonoured. Fourthly, the name is the suggestion of, perhaps, the most deservedly eminent among all the pioneers of American literature. It is but just that Mr. Irving should name the land for which, in letters, he first established a name. The last, and by far the most truly important consideration of all, however, is the music of “Appalachia” itself; nothing could be more sonorous, more liquid, or of fuller volume, while its length is just sufficient for dignity. How the guttural “Alleghania” could ever have been preferred for a moment is difficult to conceive. I yet hope to find “Appalachia” assumed.

V. — AMERICAN CRIBBAGE. [[M-089]]

Stolen, body and soul (and spoilt in the stealing), from a paper of the same title in the “European Magazine” for December, 1817. Blunderingly done throughout, and must have cost more trouble than an original thing. This makes paragraph 33 of my “Chapter on American Cribbage.” The beauty of these exposés must lie in the precision and unanswerability with which they are given — in day and date — in chapter and verse — and, above all, in an unveiling of the minute trickeries by which the thieves hope to disguise their stolen wares. I must soon a tale unfold, and an astonishing tale it will be. The C—— bears away the bell. The ladies, however, should positively not be guilty of these tricks; — for one has never the heart to unmask or deplume them. After all, there is this advantage in purloining one’s Magazine papers; — we are never forced to dispose of them under prime cost.

VI. — AMERICAN CRITICS. [[M-279]]

Alas! how many American critics neglect the happy suggestion of M. Timon — “que le ministre de L’Instruction Publique doit lui-même savoir parler Francis.”

VII. — AMERICAN LETTERS. — NATIONALITY. [[SM-001]]

Much has been said, of late, about the necessity of maintaining a proper nationality in American Letters; but [page 352:] what this nationality is, or what is to be gained by it, has never been distinctly understood. That an American should confine himself to American themes, or even prefer them, is rather a political than a literary idea — and at best is a questionable point. We would do well to bear in mind that “distance lends enchantment to the view.” Ceteris paribus, a foreign theme is, in a strictly literary sense, to be preferred. After all, the world at large is the only legitimate stage for the autorial histrio.

But of the need of that nationality which defends our own literature, sustains our own men of letters, upholds our own dignity, and depends upon our own resources, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt. Yet here is the very point at which we are most supine. We complain of our want of an International Copyright, on the ground that this want justifies our publishers in inundating us with British opinion in British books; and yet when these very publishers, at their own obvious risk, and even obvious loss, do publish an American book, we turn up our noses at it with supreme contempt (this as a general thing) until it (the American book) has been dubbed “readable” by some illiterate Cockney critic. Is it too much to say that, with us, the opinion of Washington Irving — of Prescott — of Bryant — is a mere nullity in comparison with that of any anonymous sub-sub-editor of the Spectator, the Athenæum, or the “London Punch”? It is not saying too much, to say this. It is a solemn — an absolutely awful fact. Every publisher in the country will admit it to be a fact. There is not a more disgusting spectacle under the sun than our subserviency to British criticism. It is disgusting, first, because it is truckling, servile, pusillanimous — secondly, because of its gross irrationality. We know the British to bear us little but ill will — we know that, in no case, do they utter unbiassed opinions of American books — we know that in the few instances in which our writers have been treated with common decency in England, these writers have either openly paid homage to English institutions, or have had lurking at the bottom of their hearts a secret principle at war with Democracy: — we know all this, and [page 353:] yet, day after day, submit our necks to the degrading yoke of the crudest opinion that emanates from the fatherland. Now if we must have nationality, let it be a nationality that will throw off this yoke.

The chief of the rhapsodists who have ridden us to death like the Old Man of the Mountain, is the ignorant and egotistical Wilson. We use the term rhapsodists with perfect deliberation; for, Macaulay, and Dilke, and one or two others, excepted, there is not in Great Britain a critic who can be fairly considered worthy the name. The Germans, and even the French, are infinitely superior. As regards Wilson, no man ever penned worse criticism or better rhodomontade. That he is “egotistical” his works show to all men, running as they read. That he is “ignorant” let his absurd and continuous schoolboy blunders about Homer bear witness. Not long ago we ourselves pointed out a series of similar inanities in his review of Miss Barrett’s poems — a series, we say, of gross blunders, arising from sheer ignorance — and we defy him or any one to answer a single syllable of what we then advanced)

And yet this is the man whose simple dictum (to our shame be it spoken) has the power to make or to mar any American reputation! In the last number of Blackwood, he has a continuation of the dull “Specimens of the British Critics,” and makes occasion wantonly to insult one of the noblest of our poets, Mr. Lowell. The point of the whole attack consists in the use of slang epithets and phrases of the most ineffably vulgar description. “Squabashes” is a pet term. “Faugh!” is another. We are Scotsmen to the spine! “ says Sawney — as if the thing were not more than self- evident. Mr. Lowell is called “a magpie,” an “ape,” a “Yankee cockney,” and his name is intentionally miswritten John Russell Lowell. Now were these indecencies perpetrated by an American critic, that critic would be sent to Coventry by the whole press of the country, but since it is Wilson who insults, we, as in duty bound, not only submit to the insult, but echo it, as an excellent jest, throughout the length and breadth of the land. Quamdiu Catilina? We do indeed demand the nationality of self-respect. In [page 354:] Letters as in Government we require a Declaration of Independence. A better thing still would be a Declaration of War — and that war should be carried forthwith “into Africa.”

VIII. — ANALOGY. [[SM-016]]

There are some facts in the physical world which have a really wonderful analogy with others in the world of thought, and seem thus to give some colour of truth to the (false) rhetorical dogma, that metaphor or simile may be made to strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The principle of the vis inertiæ, for example, with the amount of momentum proportionate with it and consequent upon it, seems to be identical in physics and metaphysics. It is not more true, in the former, that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that its subsequent impetus is commensurate with this difficulty, than it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more forcible, more constant, and more extensive in their movements than those of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and are more embarrassed and more full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress.

IX. — ANNIHILATION. [[M-126]]

We might contrive a very poetical and very suggestive, although, perhaps, no very tenable philosophy, by supposing that the virtuous live while the wicked suffer annihilation, hereafter; and that the danger of the annihilation (which would be in the ratio of the sin) might be indicated nightly by slumber, and occasionally, with more distinctness, by a swoon. In proportion to the dreamlessness of the sleep, for example, would be the degree of the soul’s liability to annihilation. In the same way, to swoon and awake in utter unconsciousness of any lapse of time during the syncope, would demonstrate the soul to be then in such condition that, had death occurred, annihilation would have followed. On the other hand, when the revival is attended with remembrance of visions, (as is now and then the case, in fact), then the soul to be considered in such condition as [page 355:] would insure its existence after the bodily death — the bliss or wretchedness of the existence to be indicated by the character of the visions.

X. — ANSERINE PENS. [[M-256]]

Paulus Jovius, living in those benighted times when diamond-pointed styluses were as yet unknown, thought proper, nevertheless, to speak of his goosequill as “aliquando ferreus, aureus aliquando” — intending, of course, a mere figure of speech; and from the class of modern authors who use really nothing to write with but steel and gold, some, no doubt, will let their pens, vice versâ, descend to posterity under the designation of “anserine” — of course, intending always a mere figure of speech.

XI. — ANTITHESIS. [[M-146]]

Of Berryer, somebody says “he is the man in whose description is the greatest possible consumption of antithesis.” For “description” read “lectures,” and the sentence would apply well to Hudson, the lecturer on Shakspeare. Antithesis is his end — he has no other. He does not employ it to enforce thought, but he gathers thought from all quarters with the sole view to its capacity for antithetical expression. His essays have thus only paragraphical effect; as wholes, they produce not the slightest impression. No man living could say what it is Mr. Hudson proposes to demonstrate; and if the question were propounded to Mr. H. himself, we can fancy how particularly embarrassed he would be for a reply. In the end, were he to answer honestly, he would say — “antithesis.”

As for his reading, Julius Cæsar would have said of him that he sang ill, and undoubtedly he must have “gone to the dogs” for his experience in pronouncing the r as if his throat were bored like a rifle-barrel.”* [page 356:]

XII. — ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS. [[M-284]]

No doubt, the association of idea is somewhat singular — but I never can hear a crowd of people singing and gesticulating, all together, at an Italian opera, without fancying myself at Athens, listening to that particular tragedy, by Sophocles, in which he introduces a full chorus of turkeys who set about bewailing the death of Meleager. It is noticeable in this connection, by the way, that there is not a goose in the world who, in point of sagacity, would not feel itself insulted in being compared with a turkey. The French seem to feel this. In Paris, I am sure, no one would think of saying to Mr. F——, “What a goose you are!” — “Quel dindon tu es!” would be the phrase employed as equivalent.

XIII. — DEFINITION OF ART. [[M-243]]

Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term “Art,” I should call it “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.” The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of “Artist.” Denner was no artist. The grapes of Zeuxis were inartistic — unless in a bird’s-eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius could conceal his deficiency in point of genius. I have mentioned “the veil of the soul.” Something of the kind appears indispensable in Art. We can, at any time, double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it. The naked Senses sometimes see too little — but then always they see too much.

XIV. — MACHINERY OF ART. [[M-266]]

To see distinctly the machinery — the wheels and pinions — of any work of Art is, unquestionably, of itself, a pleasure, but one which we are able to enjoy only just in proportion as we do not enjoy the legitimate effect designed by the artist: — and, in fact, it too often happens that to reflect analytically upon Art, is to reflect after the fashion of the mirrors in the temple of Smyrna, which represent the fairest images as deformed. [page 357:]

XV. — THE ARTIST. [[M-164]]

“The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist.” — Novalis.*

In nine cases out of ten it is pure waste of time to attempt extorting sense from a German apophthegm; — or, rather, any sense and every sense may be extorted from all of them. If, in the sentence above quoted, the intention is to assert that the artist is the slave of his theme, and must conform to it his thoughts, I have no faith in the idea, which appears to me that of an essentially prosaic intellect. In the hands of the true artist the theme, or “work,” is but a mass of clay, of which anything (within the compass of the mass and quality of the clay) may be fashioned at will, or according to the skill of the workman. The clay is, in fact, the slave of the artist. It belongs to him. His genius, to be sure, is manifested, very distinctively, in the choice of the clay. It should be neither fine nor coarse, abstractly — but just so fine or so coarse — just so plastic or so rigid — as may best serve the purposes of the thing to be wrought — of the idea to be made out, or, more exactly, of the impression to be conveyed. There are artists, however, who fancy only the finest material, and who, consequently, produce only the finest ware. It is generally very transparent and excessively brittle.

XVI. — BERNOUILLI. [[M-101]]

Had John Bernouilli lived to have experience of G———’s occiput and sinciput, he would have abandoned, in dismay, his theory of the non-existence of hard bodies.

XVII. — “BLUES.” [[M-283]]

Our “blues” are increasing in number at a great rate; and should be decimated, at the very least. Have we no critic with nerve enough to hang a dozen or two of them, in terrorem? He must use a silk cord, of course — as they do, in Spain, with all grandees of the blue blood — of the “sangre azula.” [page 358:]

XVIII. — BREVITY. [[SM-015]]

It is not every one who can put “a good thing” properly together, although, perhaps, when thus properly put together, every tenth person you meet with may be capable of both conceiving and appreciating it. We cannot bring ourselves to believe that less actual ability is required in the composition of a really good “brief article,” than in a fashionable novel of the usual dimensions. The novel certainly requires what is denominated a sustained effort — but this is a matter of mere perseverance, and has but a collateral relation to talent. On the other hand — unity of effect, a quality not easily appreciated or indeed comprehended by an ordinary mind, and a desideratum difficult of attainment, even by those who can conceive it — is indispensable in the “brief article,” and not so in the common novel. The latter, if admired at all, is admired for its detached passages, without reference to the work as a whole — or without reference to any general design — which, if it even exist in some measure, will be found to have occupied but little of the writer’s attention, and cannot, from the length of the narrative, be taken in at one view, by the reader.

XIX. — BROUGHAM. [[SM-019]]

That Lord Brougham was an extraordinary man no one in his senses will deny. An intellect of unusual capacity, goaded into diseased action by passions nearly ferocious, enabled him to astonish the world, and especially the “hero-worshippers,” as the author of Sartor Resartus has it, by the combined extent and variety of his mental triumphs. Attempting many things, it may at least be said that he egregiously failed in none. But that he pre-eminently excelled in any cannot be affirmed with truth, and might well be denied à priori. We have no faith in admirable Crichtons, and this merely because we have implicit faith in Nature and her laws. “He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland, in his Peregrinus Proteus, “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, nor better than a man.” The Broughams of the human intellect are never its Newtons [page 359:] or its Bayles. Yet the contemporaneous reputation to be acquired by the former is naturally greater than any which the latter may attain. The versatility of one whom we see and hear is a more dazzling and more readily appreciable merit than his profundity; which latter is best estimated in the silence of the closet, and after the quiet lapse of years. What impression Lord Brougham has stamped upon his age, cannot be accurately determined until Time has fixed and rendered definite the lines of the medal; and fifty years hence it will be difficult, perhaps to make out the deepest indentation of the exergue. Like Coleridge he should be regarded as one who might have done much, had he been satisfied with attempting but little.

XX. — BULWER. [[M-221]]

“He (Bulwer) is the most accomplished writer of the most accomplished era of English Letters; practicing all styles and classes of composition, and eminent in all — novelist, dramatist, poet, historian, moral philosopher, essayist, critic, political pamphleteer; — in each superior to all others, and only rivalled in each by himself.” — Ward — author of “Tremaine.”

The “only rivalled in each by himself,” here, puts me in mind of

None but himself can be his parallel.

But surely Mr. Ward (who, although he did write “De Vere,” is by no means a fool) could never have put to paper, in his sober senses, anything so absurd as the paragraph quoted above, without stopping at every third word to hold his sides, or thrust his pocket-handkerchief into his mouth. If the serious intention be insisted upon, however, I have to remark that the opinion is the mere opinion of a writer remarkable for no other good trait than his facility at putting his readers to sleep according to rules Addisonian and with the least possible loss of labour and time. But as the mere opinion of even a Jeffrey or a Macaulay, I have an inalienable right to meet it with another.

As a novelist, then, Bulwer is far more than respectable; although generally inferior to Scott, Godwin, D’Israeli, Miss Burney, Sue, Dumas, Dickens, the author of “Ellen Wareham,” the author of “Jane Eyre,” and several others. [page 360:] From the list of foreign novels I could select a hundred which he could neither have written nor conceived. As a dramatist, he deserves more credit, although he receives less. His “Richelieu,” “Money” and “Lady of Lyons”, have done much in the way of opening the public eyes to the true value of what is superciliously termed “stage-effect” in the hands of one able to manage it. But if commendable at this point, his dramas fail egregiously in points more important; so that, upon the whole, he can be said to have written a good play, only when we think of him in connection with the still more contemptible “old-dramatist” imitators who are his contemporaries and friends. As historian, he is sufficiently dignified, sufficiently ornate, and more than sufficiently self-sufficient. His “Athens” would have received an Etonian prize, and has all the happy air of an Etonian prize-essay re-vamped. His political pamphlets are very good as political pamphlets and very disreputable as anything else. His essays leave no doubt upon any body’s mind that, with the writer, they have been essays indeed. His criticism is really beneath contempt. His moral philosophy is the most ridiculous of all the moral philosophies that ever have been imagined upon earth.

“The men of sense,” says Helvetius, “those idols of the unthinking, are very far inferior to the men of passions. It is the strong passions which, rescuing us from sloth, can alone impart to us that continuous and earnest attention necessary to great intellectual efforts.”

When the Swiss philosopher here speaks of “inferiority,” he refers to inferiority in worldly success: — by “men of sense” he intends indolent men of genius. And Bulwer is, emphatically, one of the “men of passions” contemplated in the apopthegm. His passions, with opportunities, have made him what he is. Urged by a rabid ambition to do much, in doing nothing he would merely have proved himself an idiot. Something he has done. In aiming at Crichton, he has hit the target an inch or two above Harrison Ainsworth. Not to such intellects belong the honours of universality. His works bear about them the unmistakeable indications of mere talent — talent, I grant, of an unusual order and [page 361:] nurtured to its extreme of development with a very tender and elaborate care. Nevertheless, it is talent still. Genius it is not.

And the proof is, that while we often fancy ourselves about to be enkindled beneath its influence, fairly enkindled we never are. That Bulwer is no poet, follows as a corollary from what has been already said: — for to speak of a poet without genius, is merely to put forth a flat contradiction in terms.

XXI. — BULWER. [[M-077]]

“That sweet smile and serene — that smile never seen but upon the face of the dying and the dead.” — Ernest Maltravers.

Bulwer is not the man to look a stern fact in the face. He would rather sentimentalize upon a vulgar although picturesque error. Who ever really saw anything but horror in the smile of the dead? We so earnestly desire to fancy it “sweet” — that is the source of the mistake; if, indeed, there ever was a mistake in the question.

XXII. — BULWERS “ATHENS.” [[M-117]]

The merely mechanical style of “Athens” is far better than that of any of Bulwer’s previous books. In general he is atrociously involute — this is his main defect. He wraps one sentence in another ad infinitum — very much in the fashion of those “nests of boxes” sold in our wooden-ware shops, or like the islands within lakes, within islands within lakes, within islands within lakes, of which we read so much in the “Periplus” of Hanno.

XXIII. — BULWERS “LADY OF LYONS.” [[M-177]]

A hundred criticisms to the contrary notwithstanding, I must regard “The Lady of Lyons” as one of the most successful dramatic efforts of modern times. It is popular, and justly so. It could not fail to be popular so long as the people have a heart. It abounds in sentiments which stir the soul as the sound of a trumpet. It proceeds rapidly and consequentially; the interest not for one moment being permitted to flag. Its incidents are admirably conceived and skillfully wrought into execution. Its dramatic [page 362:] personæ, throughout, have the high merit of being natural, although, except in the case of Pauline, there is no marked individuality. She is a creation which would have done no dishonour to Shakspeare. She excites profound emotion. It has been sillily objected to her, that she is weak, mercenary, and at points ignoble. She is; and what then? We are not dealing with Clarissa Harlowe. Bulwer has painted a woman. The chief defect of the play lies in the heroine’s consenting to wed Beauseant while aware of the existence and even the continued love of Claude. As the plot runs, there is a question in Pauline’s soul between a comparatively trivial (because merely worldly) injury to her father, and utter ruin and despair inflicted upon her husband. Here there should not have been an instant’s hesitation. The audience have no sympathy with any. Nothing on earth should have induced the wife to give up the living Melnotte. Only the assurance of his death could have justified her in sacrificing herself to Beauseant. As it is, we hate her for the sacrifice. The effect is repulsive — but I must be understood as calling this effect objectionable solely on the ground of its being at war with the whole genius of the play.

XXIV. — BULWERS “LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.” [[M-049]]

It would have been becoming, I think, in Bulwer, to have made at least a running acknowledgment of that extensive indebtedness to Arnay’s “Private Life of the Romans”* which he had so little scruple about incurring, during the composition of “The Last Days of Pompeii.” He acknowledges, I believe, what he owes to Sir William Gell’s “Pompeiana.” Why this? — why not that?

XXV. — BULWERS “NIGHT AND MORNING.” [[M-073]]

The style is so involute,|| that one cannot help fancying it must be falsely constructed. If the use of language is to convey ideas, then it is nearly as much a demerit that our words seem to be, as that they are, indefensible. A man’s [page 363:] grammar, like Cæsar’s wife, must not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity.

XXVI. — BULWER AS A NOVELIST. [[SM-004]]

We have long learned to reverence the fine intellect of Bulwer. We take up any production of his pen with a positive certainty that, in reading it, the wildest passions of our nature, the most profound of our thoughts, the brightest visions of our fancy, and the most ennobling and lofty of our aspirations will, in due turn, be enkindled within us. We feel sure of rising from the perusal a wiser if not a better man. In no instance are we deceived. From the brief tale — from the “Monos and Daimonos” of the author — to his most ponderous and laboured novels — all is richly, and glowingly intellectual — all is energetic, or astute, or brilliant, or profound. There may be men now living who possess the power of Bulwer — but it is quite evident that very few have made that power so palpably manifest. Indeed we know of none. Viewing him as a novelist — a point of view exceedingly unfavourable (if we hold to the common acceptation of “the novel”) for a proper contemplation of his genius — he is unsurpassed by any writer living or dead. Why should we hesitate to say this, feeling, as we do, thoroughly persuaded of its truth. Scott has excelled him in many points, and “The Bride of Lammermoor” is a better book than any individual work by the author of Pelham“Ivanhoe” is, perhaps, equal to any. Descending to particulars, D‘Israeli has a more brilliant, a more lofty, and a more delicate (we do not say a wilder) imagination. Lady Dacre has written Ellen Wareham, a more forcible tale of passion. In some species of wit Theodoure Hook rivals, and in broad humour our own Paulding surpasses him. The writer of “Godolphin”* equals him in energy. Banim is a better sketcher of character. Hope is a richer colourist. Captain Trelawny is as original — Moore is as fanciful, and Horace Smith is as learned. But who is there uniting in one person the imagination, the passion, the humour, the energy, the knowledge of the heart, the artist-like [page 364:] eye, the originality, the fancy, and the learning of Edward Lytton Bulwer? In a vivid wit — in profundity and a Gothic massiveness of thought — in style — in a calm certainty and definitiveness of purpose — in industry — and above all, in the power of controlling and regulating by volition his illimitable faculties of mind, he is unequalled — he is unapproached.

XXVII. — CAMOËNS — GENOA, 1798. [[M-076]]

Here is an edition,* which, so far as microscopical excellence and absolute accuracy of typography are concerned, might well be prefaced with the phrase of the Koran — “There is no error in this book.” We cannot call a single inverted o an error — can we? But I am really as glad of having found that inverted o, as ever was a Columbus or an Archimedes. What, after all, are continents discovered, or silversmiths exposed? Give us a good o turned upside-down, and a whole herd of bibliomanic Arguses overlooking it for years.

XXVIII. — CAPITALS. [[M-236]]

I have now before me a book in which the most noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which “Monarch” and “King” are printed with a capital M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been lately presented at Court. He will employ a small g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God.

XXIX. — CARLYLE. [[M-255]]

The Carlyle-ists should adopt, as a motto, the inscription on the old bell from whose metal was cast the Great Tom, of Oxford: — “In Thomaœ laude resono ‘Bim! Bom!’ sine fraude:” — and “Bim! Bom,” in such case, would be a marvellous “echo of sound to sense.”

XXX. — CARLYLE. [[M-289]]

The next work of Carlyle will be entitled “BOW-WOW,” and the title-page will have a motto from the opening chapter of the Koran: “There is no error in this Book.” [page 365:]

XXXI. — CAUTION IN LAUDING A FRIEND. [[M-241]]

Not long ago, to call a man “a great wizard,” was to invoke for him fire and faggot; but now, when we wish to run our protégé for President, we just dub him “a little magician.” The fact is, that, on account of the curious modern bouleversement of old opinion, one cannot be too cautious of the grounds on which he lauds a friend or vituperates a foe.

XXXII. — CHARITY. [[M263]]

A strong argument for the religion of Christ is this — that offenses against Charity are about the only ones which men on their death-beds can be made — not to understand — but to feel — as crime.

XXXIII. — COLERIDGE. [[M-193]]

All in a hot and copper sky

The bloody sun at noon

Just up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the moon. — COLERIDGE.

Is it possible that the poet did not know the apparent diameter of the moon to be greater than that of the sun?

XXXIV. — COLERDGES TABLE-TALK. [[M-109]]

The title of this book deceives us. It is by no means “talk” as men understand it — not that true talk of which Boswell has been the best historiographer. In a word it is not gossip which has been never better defined than by Basil, who calls it “talk for talk’s sake,” nor more thoroughly comprehended than by Horace Walpole and Mary Wortley Montague, who made it a profession and a purpose. Embracing all things, it has neither beginning, middle, nor end. Thus of the gossiper it was not properly said that “he commences his discourse by jumping in medias res.” For, clearly, your gossiper commences not at all. He is begun. He is already begun. He is always begun. In the matter of end he is indeterminate. And by these extremes shall ye know him to be of the Cæsars — porphyrogenitus — of the right vein — of the true blood — of the blue [page 366:] blood — of the sangre azul. As for laws, he is cognizant of but one, the invariable absence of all. And for his road, were it as straight as the Appia and as broad as that “which leadeth to destruction,” nevertheless would he be malcontent without a frequent hop-skip-and-jump, over the hedges, into the tempting pastures of digression beyond. Such is the gossiper, and of such alone is the true talk. But when Coleridge asked Lamb if he had ever heard him preach, the answer was quite happy — “I have never heard you do anything else.” The truth is that “Table Discourse” might have answered as a title to this book; but its character can be fully conveyed only in “Post-Prandian Sub-Sermons,” or “Three-Bottle Sermonoids.”

XXXV. — CONGRESS. [[M-227]]

Samuel Butler, of Hudibrastic memory, must have had a prophetic eye to the American Congress when he defined a rabble as — “A congregation or assembly of the States-General — every one being of a several judgment concerning whatever business be under consideration”. . . . “They meet only to quarrel,” he adds, “and then return home full of satisfaction and narrative.”

XXXVI. — CONVERSATION. [[M-192]]

To converse well, we need the cool tact of talent — to talk well, the glowing abandon of genius. Men of very high genius, however, talk at one time very well, at another very ill: — well, when they have full time, full scope, and a sympathetic listener: — ill, when they fear interruption and are annoyed by the impossibility of exhausting the topic during that particular talk. The partial genius is flashy — scrappy. The true genius shudders at incompleteness — imperfection — and usually prefers silence to saying the something which is not every thing that should be said. He is so filled with his theme that he is dumb, first from not knowing how to begin, where there seems eternally beginning behind beginning, and secondly from perceiving his true end at so infinite a distance. Sometimes, dashing into a subject, he blunders, hesitates, stops short, sticks fast, and [page 367:] because he has been overwhelmed by the rush and multiplicity of his thoughts, his hearers sneer at his inability to think. Such a man finds his proper element in those “great occasions” which confound and prostrate the general intellect.

Nevertheless, by his conversation, the influence of the conversationist upon mankind in general, is more decided than that of the talker by his talk: — the latter invariably talks to best purpose with his pen. And good conversationists are more rare than respectable talkers. I know many of the latter; and of the former only five or six. Most people, in conversing, force us to curse our stars that our lot was not cast among the African nation mentioned by Eudoxus — the savages who, having no mouths, never opened them, as a matter of course. And yet, if denied mouth, some persons whom I have in my eye would contrive to chatter on still — as they do now — through the nose.

XXXVII. — INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT. [[M-139C]]

The question of international copyright has been overloaded with words. The right of property in a literary work is disputed merely for the sake of disputation, and no man should be at the trouble of arguing the point. Those who deny it, have made up their minds to deny every thing tending to further the law in contemplation. Nor is the question of expediency in any respect relevant. Expediency is only to be discussed where no rights interfere. It would no doubt be very expedient in any poor man to pick the pocket of his wealthy neighbour, (and as the poor are the majority the case is precisely parallel to the copyright case;) but what would the rich think if expediency were permitted to overrule their right?

But even the expediency is untenable, grossly so. The immediate advantage arising to the pockets of our people, in the existing condition of things, is no doubt sufficiently plain. We get more reading for less money than if the international law existed; but the remoter disadvantages are of infinitely greater weight. In brief, they are these: First, we have injury to our national literature [page 368:] by repressing the efforts of our men of genius; for genius, as a general rule, is poor in worldly goods and cannot write for nothing. Our genius being thus repressed, we are written at only by our “gentlemen of elegant leisure,” and mere gentlemen of elegant leisure have been noted, time out of mind, for the insipidity of their productions. In general, too, they are obstinately conservative, and this feeling leads them into imitation of foreign, more especially of British models. This is one main source of the imitativeness with which, as a people, we have been justly charged, although the first cause is to be found in our position as a colony. Colonies have always naturally aped the mother land. In the second place, irreparable ill is wrought by the almost exclusive dissemination among us of foreign — that is to say, of monarchical or aristocratical sentiment in foreign books; nor is this sentiment less fatal to democracy because it reaches the people themselves directly in the gilded pill of the poem or the novel. We have next to consider the impolicy of our committing, in the national character, an open and continuous wrong on the frivolous pretext of its benefiting ourselves. The last and by far the most important consideration of all, however, is that sense of insult and injury aroused in the whole active intellect of the world, the bitter and fatal resentment excited in the universal heart of literature — a resentment which will not and which cannot make nice distinctions between the temporary perpetrators of the wrong and that democracy in general which permits its perpetration. The autorial body is the most autocratic on the face of the earth. How, then, can those institutions even hope to be safe which systematically persist in trampling it under foot?

XXXVIII. — COWERDICE. [[M-185]]

That man is not truly brave who is afraid either to seem or to be, when it suits him, a coward. [page 369:]

XXXIX. — COXS “SAUL, A MYSTERY.” [[M-219]]

“The Reverend Arthur Coxe’s ‘Saul, a Mystery,’ having been condemned in no measured terms by Poe, of ‘The Broadway Journal,’ and Green of ‘The Emporium,’ a writer in the ‘Hartford Columbian’ retorts as follows:

An entertaining history,

Entitled ‘Saul, A Mystery,’

Has recently been published by the Reverend Arthur Coxe.

The poem is dramatic,

And the wit of it is attic,

And its teachings are emphatic of the doctrines orthodox.

But Mr. Poe, the poet,

Declares he cannot go it —

That the book is very stupid, or something of that sort:

And Green, of the Empori-

Um, tells a kindred story,

And swears like any tory that it is’nt worth a groat.

But maugre all the croaking

Of the Raven and the joking

Of the verdant little fellow of the used to be review,

The People, in derision

Of their impudent decision,

Have declared, without division, that the Mystery will do.”

The truth, of course, rather injures an epigram than otherwise; and nobody will think the worse of the one above, when I say that, at the date of its first appearance, I had expressed no opinion whatever of the poem to which it refers. “Give a dog a bad name,” etc. Whenever a book is abused, people take it for granted that it is I who have been abusing it.

Latterly I have read “Saul,” and agree with the epigrammatist, that it “will do” — whoever attempts to wade through it. It will do, also, for trunk-paper. The author is right in calling it “A Mystery:” — for a most unfathomable mystery it is. When I got to the end of it I found it more mysterious than ever — and it was really a mystery how I ever did get to the end — which I half fancied that somebody had cut off, in a fit of ill-will to the critics. I have heard not a syllable about the “Mystery,” of late days. “The People,” seem to have forgotten it; and Mr. Coxe’s [page 370:] friends should advertise it under the head of “Mysterious Disappearance” — that is to say, the disappearance of a Mystery.

XL. — CRITICAL QUAGMIRE. [[M-276]]

It is folly to assert, as some at present are fond of asserting, that the Literature of any nation or age was ever injured by plain speaking on the part of the Critics. As for American Letters, plain-speaking about them is, simply, the one thing needed. They are in a condition of absolute quagmire — a quagmire, to use the words of Victor Hugo, d’où on ne peut se tirer par des periphrases — par des quemadmodums et des verumenimveros.

XLI. — CRITICISM. [[M-281]]

M——, as a matter of course, would rather be abused by the critics than not be noticed by them at all; but he is hardly to be blamed for growling a little, now and then, over their criticisms — just as a dog might do if pelted with bones.

XLII. — CRITICISM. [[M-278]]

There is an old German chronicle about Reynard the Fox, when crossed in love — about how he desired to turn hermit, but could find no spot in which he could be “thoroughly alone,” until he came upon the desolate fortress of Malapart. He should have taken to reading the “American Drama” of ——. I fancy he would have found himself “thoroughly alone” in that.

XLIII. — CRITICISM. [[M-141]]

When we attend less to “authority” and more to principles, when we look less at merit and more at demerit, (instead of the converse, as some persons suggest), we shall then be better critics than we are. We must neglect our models and study our capabilities. The mad eulogies on what occasionally has, in letters, been well done, spring from our imperfect comprehension of what it is possible for us to do better. “A man who has never seen the sun,” says Calderon, “cannot be blamed for thinking that no glory can [page 371:] exceed that of the moon; a man who has seen neither moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for expatiating on the incomparable effulgence of the morning star.” Now, it is the business of the critic so to soar that he shall see the sun, even although its orb be far below the ordinary horizon.

XLIV. — CRITICISM — ANACREON. [[M-244]]

A clever French writer of “Memoirs” is quite right in saying that “if the Universities had been willing to permit it, the disgusting old debauché of Teos, with his eternal Batyllis, would long ago have been buried in the darkness of oblivion.”

XLV. — CURRAN. [[M-095]]

How overpowering a style is that of Curran! I use “overpowering” in the sense of the English exquisite. I can imagine nothing more distressing than the extent of his eloquence.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 350:]

*  Mr. Field, in a meeting of “The New York Historical Society,” proposed that we take the name of “America,” and bestow “Columbia[[”]] upon the continent.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 355:]

* “Nec illi (Demostheni) turpe videbatur vel, optima relictis magistris, ad canes se conferre, et ab illis et litene vim et naturam petere, illorumque in sonando, quod satis est, morem imitari.” — Ad Meker. de vet. Pron. Ling. Græcæ.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 357:]

* “The nom de plume of Von Hardenburgh.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 362, centered:]

* “1764.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 363, centered:]

* “The late Lord Lytton himself. — ED.


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[S:0 - JHI, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Marginalia (Items 1-45) (J. H. Ingram, 1875)