Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Marginalia (Items 95-139),” The Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. III: Poems & Essays (1875), 3:395-417


[page 395, continued:]


La Harpe, who was no critic, has, nevertheless, done little more than strict justice to the fine taste and precise finish of Racine, in all that regards the Minor Morals of Literature. In these he as far excels Pope, as Pope the veriest dolt in his own “Dunciad.”


It has been well said of the French orator, Dupin, that “he spoke, as nobody else, the language of every body;” and thus his manner seems to be exactly conversed in that of the Frogpondian Euphuists, who, on account of the familiar tone in which they lisp their outré phrases, may be said to speak, as everybody, the language of nobody — that is to say, a language emphatically their own.


Words — printed ones especially — are murderous things. Keats did (or did not) die of a criticism, Cromwell of Titus’ pamphlet “Killing no Murder,” and Montfleury perished of the “Andromache.” The author of the “Parnasse Réformé” makes him thus speak in Hades — “L’homme donc qui voudrait saroir ce dont je suis mort, qu’il ne demande pas s’il fut de fievre on de podagre ou d’autre chose, mais qu’il entende que ce fut de L’Andromache.” As for myself, I am fast dying of the “Sartor Resartus.”


I have at length attained the last page, which is a thing to thank God for; and all this may be logic, but I am sure [page 396:] it is nothing more. Until I get the means of refutation, however, I must be content to say, with the Jesuits, Le Sueur and Jacquier, that “I acknowledge myself obedient to the decrees of the Pope against the motion of the Earth.”


One-half the pleasure experienced at a theatre arises from the spectator's sympathy with the rest of the audience, and, especially, from his belief in their sympathy with him. The eccentric gentleman who not long ago, at the Park, found himself the solitary occupant of box, pit, and gallery, would have derived but little enjoyment from his visit, had he been suffered to remain. It was an act of mercy to turn him out. The present absurd rage for lecturing is founded in the feeling in question. Essays which we would not be hired to read — so trite is their subject — so feeble is their execution — so much easier is it to get better information on similar themes out of any encyclopædia in Christendom — we are brought to tolerate, and alas, even to applaud in their tenth and twentieth repetition, through the sole force of our sympathy with the throng. In the same way we listen to a story with greater zest when there are others present at its narration beside ourselves. Aware of this, authors without due reflection have repeatedly attempted, by supposing a circle of listeners, to imbue their narratives with the interest of sympathy. At a cursory glance the idea seems plausible enough. But, in the one case, there is an actual, personal, and palpable sympathy, conveyed in looks, gestures and brief comments — a sympathy of real individuals, all with the matters discussed to be sure, but then especially, each with each. In the other instance, we, alone in our closet, are required to sympathise with the sympathy of fictitious listeners, who, so far from being present in body, are often studiously kept out of sight and out of mind for two or three hundred pages at a time. This is sympathy double-diluted — the shadow of a shade. It is unnecessary to say that the design invariably fails of its effect. [page 397:]

C. — LITTLE MEN. [[M-282]]

To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness. The Crab might never have become a Constellation but for the courage it evinced in nibbling Hercules on the heel.


The à priori reasoners upon government are, of all plausible people, the most preposterous. They only argue too cleverly to permit my thinking them silly enough to be themselves deceived by their own arguments. Yet even this is possible; for there is something in the vanity of logic which addles a man's brains. Your true logician gets, in time, to be logicalized, and then, so far as regards himself, the universe is one word. A thing, for him, no longer exists. He deposits upon a sheet of paper a certain assemblage of syllables, and fancies that their meaning is riveted by the act of deposition. I am serious in the opinion that some such process of thought passes through the mind of the “practiced” logician, as he makes note of the thesis proposed. He is not aware that he thinks in this way — but, unwittingly, he so thinks. The syllables deposited acquire, in his view, a new character. While afloat in his brain, he might have been brought to admit the possibility that these syllables were variable exponents of various phases of thought; but he will not admit this if he once gets them upon the paper.

In a single page of “Mill,” I find the word “force” employed four times; and each employment varies the idea. The fact is that à priori argument is much worse than useless except in the mathematical sciences, where it is possible to obtain precise meanings. If there is any one subject in the world to which it is utterly and radically inapplicable, that subject is Government. The identical arguments used to sustain Mr. Bentham's positions, might, with little exercise of ingenuity, be made to overthrow them; and, by ringing small changes on the words “leg-of-mutton,” and “turnip” (changes so gradual as to escape detection), I could “demonstrate[page 398:] that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be a leg-of-mutton.

CII. — LONGFELLOW. [[M-160]]

Imitators are not, necessarily, unoriginal — except at the exact points of the imitation. Mr. Longfellow, decidedly the most audacious imitator in America, is markedly original, or, in other words, imaginative, upon the whole; and many persons have, from the latter branch of the fact, been at a loss to comprehend, and therefore, to believe, the former. Keen sensibility of appreciation — that is to say, the poetic sentiment (in distinction from the poetic power) leads almost inevitably to imitation. Thus all great poets have been gross imitators. It is, however, a mere non distributio medii hence to infer, that all great imitators are poets.


One of the most singular pieces of literary Mosaic is Mr. Longfellow's “Midnight Mass for the Dying Year.” The general idea and manner are from Tennyson's “Death of the Old Year,” several of the most prominent points are from the death scene of Cordelia in “Lear,” and the line about the “hooded friars” is from the “Comus” of Milton.

Some approach to this patchwork may be found in these lines from Tasso —

“Giace l’alta Cartago: a pena i segni

De l’alte sui wine it lido serba:

Muoino le citta, muoino i regni;

Copre i fasti e le pompe arena et herba:

E l’huom d’esser mortal per che si sdegni.”

This is entirely made up from Lucan and Sulspicius. The former says of Troy —

Iam tota teguntur

Pergama dumetis: etiam perire ruinæ.”

Sulspicius, in a letter to Cicero, says of Megara, Egina and Corinth — “Hem! nos homunculi indignamur si quit nostrum interiit, quorum vita brevior esse debet, cum uno loco tot oppidorum cadavera projecta jaceant.” [page 399:]


The conclusion of the Pröem in Mr. Longfellow's late “Waif” is exceedingly beautiful. The whole poem is remarkable in this, that one of its principal excellences arises from what is, generically, a demerit. No error, for example, is more certainly fatal in poetry than defective rhythm; but here the slipshodiness is so thoroughly in unison with the nonchalant air of the thoughts — which, again, are so capitally applicable to the thing done (a mere introduction of other people's fancies) — that the effect of the looseness of rhythm becomes palpable, and we see at once that here is a case in which to be correct would be inartistic. Here are three of the quatrains —

“I see the lights of the village

Gleam through the rain and the mist,

And a feeling of sadness comes over me

That my soul cannot resist —

“A feeling of sadness and longing

That is not akin to pain,

And resembles sorrow only

As the mists resemble the rain. ....

“And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares that infest the day

Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,

And as silently steal away.”

Now these lines are not to be scanned. They are referable to no true principles of rhythm. The general idea is that of a succession of anapæsts; yet not only is this idea confounded with that of dactyls, but this succession is improperly interrupted at all points — improperly, because by unequivalent feet. The partial prosaicism thus brought about, however, (without any interference with the mere melody), becomes a beauty solely through the nicety of its adaptation to the tone of the poem, and of this tone, again, to the matter in hand. In his keen sense of this adaptation, (which conveys the notion of what is vaguely termed “ease,”) the reader so far loses sight of the rhythmical imperfection that he can be convinced of its existence only by treating [page 400:] in the same rhythm (or, rather, lack of rhythm) a subject of different tone — a subject in which decision shall take the place of nonchalance. Now, undoubtedly, I intend all this as complimentary to Mr. Longfellow; but it was for the utterance of these very opinions in the “New York Mirror” that I was accused, by some of the poet's friends, of inditing what they think proper to call “strictures” on the author of “Outre-Mer.”


“The day is done, and the darkness

Falls from the wings of night,

As a feather is wafted downward

From an eagle in its flight.

Proëm to Longfellow'sWaif.”

The single feather here is imperfectly illustrative of the omni-prevalent darkness; but a more especial objection is the likening of one feather to the falling of another. Night is personified as a bird, and darkness — the feather of this bird — falls from it, how? — as another feather falls from another bird. Why, it does this of course. The illustration is identical — that is to say, null. It has no more force than an identical proposition in logic.

CVI. — LORD’S “NIAGARA.” [[M-169]]

With the aid of a lantern, I have been looking again at “Niagara and other Poems” (Lord only knows if that be the true title) — but “there's nothing in it:” — at least nothing of Mr. Lord's* own — nothing which is not stolen — or, (more delicately), transfused — transmitted. By the way, Newton says a great deal about “fits of easy transmission and reflection,” and I have no doubt that “Niagara” was put together in one of these identical fits. [page 401:]


Talking of inscriptions — how admirable was the one circulated at Paris, for the equestrian statue of Louis XV, done by Pigal and Bouchardon — “Statua Statutæ.”


Les anges,” says Madame Dudevant, a woman who intersperses many an admirable sentiment amid a chaos of the most shameless and altogether objectionable fiction — “Les anges ne sont plus pures gue le coeur dun jeune homme qui aime en verite.” The angels are not more pure than the heart of a young man who loves with fervour. The hyperbole is scarcely less than true. It would be truth itself, were it averred of the love of him who is at the same time young and a poet. The boyish poetlove is indisputably that one of the human sentiments which most nearly realizes our dreams of the chastened voluptuousness of heaven.

In every allusion made by the author of “Childe Harold” to his passion for Mary Chaworth, there runs a vein of almost spiritual tenderness and purity, strongly in contrast with the gross earthliness per vading and disfiguring his ordinary love-poems. The Dream, in which the incidents of his parting with her when about to travel, are said to be delineated, or at least paralleled, has never been excelled (certainly never excelled by him) in the blended fervour, delicacy, truthfulness and ethereality which sublimate and adorn it. For this reason, it may well be doubted if he has written anything so universally popular. That his attachment for this “Mary” (in whose very name there indeed seemed to exist for him an “enchantment”) was earnest, and long-abiding, we have every reason to believe. There are a hundred evidences of this fact, scattered not only through his own poems and letters, but in the memoirs of his relatives, and cotemporaries in general. But that it was thus earnest and enduring, does not controvert, in any degree, the opinion that it was a passion (if passion it can properly be termed) of the most thoroughly romantic, shadowy and imaginative character. It was born of the [page 402:] hour, and of the youthful necessity to love, while it was nurtured by the waters and the hills, and the flowers, and the stars. It had no peculiar regard to the person, or to the character, or to the reciprocating affection of Mary Chaworth. Any maiden, not immediately and positively repulsive, he would have loved, under the same circumstances of hourly and unrestricted communion, such as the engravings of the subject shadow forth. They met without restraint and without reserve. As mere children they sported together; in boyhood and girlhood they read from the same books, sang the same songs, or roamed hand in hand, through the grounds of the conjoining estates. The result was not merely natural or merely probable, it was as inevitable as destiny itself.

In view of a passion thus engendered, Miss Chaworth, (who is represented as possessed of no little personal beauty and some accomplishments), could not have failed to serve sufficiently well as the incarnation of the ideal that haunted the fancy of the poet. It is perhaps better, nevertheless, for the mere romance of the love-passages between the two, that their intercourse was broken up in early life and never uninterruptedly resumed in after years. Whatever of warmth, whatever of soul-passion, whatever of the truer nare and essentiality of romance was elicited during the youthful association is to be attributed altogether to the poet. If she felt at all, it was only while the magnetism of his actual presence compelled her to feel. If she responded at all, it was merely because the necromancy of his words of fire could not do otherwise than exhort a response. In absence, the bard bore easily with him all the fancies which were the basis of his flame — a flame which absence itself but served to keep in vigour — while the less ideal but at the same time the less really substantial affection of his lady-love, perished utterly and forthwith, through simple lack of the element which had fanned it into being. He to her, in brief, was a not unhandsome, and not ignoble, but somewhat portionless, somewhat eccentric and rather lame young man. She to him was the Egeria of his dreams — the Venus Aphrodite that sprang, in full and supernal [page 403:] loveliness, from the bright foam upon the storm-tormented ocean of his thoughts.


Here is a man who is a scholar and an artist, who knows precisely how every effect has been produced by every great writer, and who is resolved to reproduce them. But the heart passes by his pitfalls and traps, and carefully-planned springs, to be taken captive by some simple fellow who expected the event as little as did his prisoner. — Lowell's “Conversations.”

Perhaps I err in quoting these words as the author's own — they are in the mouth of one of his interlocutors — but whoever claims them, they are poetical and no more. The error is exactly that common one of separating practice from the theory which includes it. In all cases, if the practice fail, it is because the theory is imperfect. If Mr. Lowell's heart be not caught in the pitfall or trap, then the pitfall is ill-concealed and the trap is not properly baited or set. One who has some artistical ability may know how to do a thing, and even show how to do it, and yet fail in doing it after all; but the artist and the man of some artistic ability must not be confounded. He only is the former who can carry his most shadowy precepts into successful application. To say that a critic could not have written the work which he criticises, is to put forth a contradiction in terms.


Whatever may be the merits or demerits, generally, of the Magazine Literature of America, there can be no question as to its extent or influence. The topic — Magazine Literature — is therefore an important one. In a few years its importance will be found to have increased in geometrical ratio. The whole tendency of the age is Magazine-ward. The Quarterly Reviews have never been popular. Not only are they too stilted, (by way of keeping up a due dignity), but they make a point, with the same end in view, of discussing only topics which are caviare to the many, and which, for the most part, have only a conventional interest even with the few. Their issues, also, are at too long intervals; [page 404:] their subjects get cold before being served up. In a word, their ponderosity is quite out of keeping with the rust’ of the age. We now demand the light artillery of the intellect; we need the curt, the condensed, the pointed, the readily diffused — in place of the verbose, the detailed, the voluminous, the inaccessible. On the other hand, the lightness of the artillery should not degenerate into popgunnery — by which term we may designate the character of the greater portion of the newspaper press — their sole legitimate object being the discussion of ephemeral matters in an ephemeral manner. Whatever talent may be brought to bear upon our daily journals, (and in many cases this talent is very great), still the imperative necessity of catching, currente calamo, each topic as it flits before the eye of the public, must of course materially narrow the limits of their power. The bulk and the period of issue of the monthly magazines, seem to be precisely adapted, if not to all the literary wants of the day, at least to the largest and most imperative, as well as the most consequential portion of them.

CXI. — MAGAZINES. [[M-143]]

The increase, within a few years, of the magazine literature, is by no means to be regarded as indicating what some critics would suppose it to indicate — a downward tendency in American taste or in American letters. It is but a sign of the times, an indication of an era in which men are forced upon the curt, the condensed, the well-digested in place of the voluminous — in a word, upon journalism in lieu of dissertation. We need now the light artillery rather than the peace-makers of the intellect. I will not be sure that men at present think more profoundly than half a century ago, but beyond question they think with more rapidity, with more skill, with more tact, with more of method and less of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they have a vast increase in the thinking material; they have more facts, more to think about. For this reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it with the utmost attainable rapidity. Hence the journalism of the age; hence, in [page 405:] especial, magazines. Too many we cannot have, as a general proposition; but we demand that they have sufficient merit to render them noticeable in the beginning, and that they continue in existence sufficiently long to permit us a fair estimation of their value.

CXII. — MALIBRAN. [[M-085]]

Upon her was lavished the enthusiastic applause of the most correct taste, and of the deepest sensibility. Human triumph, in all that is most exciting and delicious, never went beyond that which she experienced — or never but in the case of Taglioni. For what are the extorted adulations that fall to the lot of the conqueror? — what even are the extensive honours of the popular author — his far-reaching fame — his high influence — or the most devout public appreciation of his works — to that rapturous approbation of the personal woman — that spontaneous, instant, present, and palpable applause — those irrepressible acclamations — those eloquent sighs and tears which the idolized Malibran at once heard, and saw, and deeply felt that she deserved? Her brief career was one gorgeous dream — for even the many sad intervals of her grief were but dust in the balance of her glory. In this book* I read much about the causes which curtailed her existence; and there seems to hang around them, as here given, an indistinctness which the fair memorialist tries in vain to illumine. She seems never to approach the full truth. She seems never to reject that the speedy decease was but a condition of the rapturous life. No thinking person, hearing Malibran sing, could have doubted that she would die in the spring of her days. She crowded ages into hours. She left the world at twenty-five, having existed her thousands of years.

CXIII. — MICHEL MASON, author of “Le Cœur d’une Jeune Fille.” [[M-058]]

A corrupt and impious heart — a merely prurient fancy — a Saturnian brain in which invention has only the phosphorescent [page 406:] glimmer of rottenness.* Worthless, body and soul. A foul reproach to the nation that engendered and endures him. A fetid battener upon the garbage of thought. No man. A beast. A pig. Less scrupulous than a carrion-crow, and not very much less filthy than a Wilmer.

CXIV. — MENIPÉE. [[M-064]]

Has any one observed the excessively close resemblance in subject, thought, general manner and particular point, which this clever composition (the “Satyre Menippée”) bears to the “Hudibras” of Butler?


One of the happiest examples, in a small way, of the carrying-one's-self-in-a-hand-basket logic, is to be found in a London weekly paper called “The Popular Record of Modern Science; a Journal of Philosophy and General Information.” This work has a vast circulation, and is respected by eminent men. Sometime in November, 1845, it copied from the “Columbian Magazine” of New York, a rather adventurous article of mine, called “Mesmeric Revelation.” It had the impudence, also, to spoil the title by improving it to “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule” — a phrase that is nothing at all to the purpose, since the person who “converses” is not a somnambule. He is a sleep-waker — not a sleep-walker; but I presume that “The Record” thought it was only the difference of an 1. What I chiefly complain of, however, is that the London editor prefaced my paper with these words: — “The following is an article communicated to the Columbian Magazine, a journal of respectability and influence in the United States, by Mr. Edgar A. Poe. It bears internal evidence of authenticity.”!

There is no subject under heaven about which funnier ideas are, in general, entertained than about this subject of internal evidence. It is by “internal evidence,” observe, that we decide upon the mind.

But to “The Record:” — On the issue of my “Valdemar Case,” this journal copies it, as a matter of course, and (also as a matter of course) improves the title, as in the previous [page 407:] instance. But the editorial comments may as well be called profound. Here they are:

“The following narrative appears in a recent number of The American Magazine, a respectable periodical in the United States. It comes, it will be observed, from the narrator of the ‘Last Conversation of a Somnambule,’ published in The Record of the 29th of November. In extracting this case the Morning Post of Monday last, takes what it considers the safe side, by remarking — ‘For our own parts we do not believe it; and there are several statements made, more especially with regard to the disease of which the patient died, which at once prove the case to be either a fabrication, or the work of one little acquainted with consumption. The story, however, is wonderful, and we therefore give it.’ The editor, however, does not point out the especial statements which are inconsistent with what we know of the progress of consumption, and as few scientific persons would be willing to take their pathology anymore than their logic from the Morning Post, his caution, it is to be feared, will not have much weight. The reason assigned by the Post for publishing the account is quaint, and would apply equally to an adventure from Baron Munchausen: — ‘it is wonderful and we therefore give it.’ . . . The above case is obviously one that cannot be received except on the strongest testimony, and it is equally clear that the testimony by which it is at present accompanied, is not of that character. The most favourable circumstances in support of it, consist in the fact that credence is understood to be given to it at New York, within a few miles of which city the affair took place, and where consequently the most ready means must be found for its authentication or disproval. The initials of the medical men and of the young medical student must be sufficient in the immediate locality, to establish their identity, especially as M. Valdemar was well known, and had been so long ill as to render it out of the question that there should be any difficulty in ascertaining the names of the physicians by whom he had been attended. In the same way the nurses and servants under whose cognizance the case must have come during the seven months which it occupied, are of course accessible to all sorts of inquiries. It will, therefore, appear that there must have been too many parties concerned to render prolonged deception practicable. The angry excitement and various rumors which have at length rendered a public statement necessary, are also sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place. On the other hand there is no strong point for disbelief. The circumstances are, as the Post says, ‘wonderful;’ but so are all circumstances that come to our knowledge for the first time — and in Mesmerism every thing is new. An objection may be made that the article has rather a [page 408:] Magazinish air; Mr. Poe having evidently written with a view to effect, and so as to excite rather than to subdue the vague appetite for the mysterious and the horrible which such a case, under any circumstances, is sure to awaken — but apart from this there is nothing to deter a philosophic mind from further inquiries regarding it. It is a matter entirely for testimony. [So it is.] Under this view we shall take steps to procure from some of the most intelligent and influential citizens of New York all the evidence that can be had upon the subject. No steamer will leave England for America till the 3d of February, but within a few weeks of that time we doubt not it will be possible to lay before the readers of the Record information which will enable them to come to a pretty accurate conclusion.”

Yes; and no doubt they came to one accurate enough, in the end. But all this rigmarole is what people call testing a thing by “internal evidence.” The Record insists upon the truth of the story because of certain facts — because “the initials of the young men must be sufficient to establish their identity” — because “the nurses must be accessible to all sorts of inquiries” — and because the “angry excitement and various rumors which at length rendered a public statement necessary, are sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place.” To be sure! The story is proved by these facts — the facts about the students, the nurses, the excitement, the credence given the tale at New York. And now all we have to do is to prove these facts. Ah! — they are proved by the story. As for the Morning Post, it evinces more weakness in its disbelief than the Record in its credulity. What the former says about doubting on account of inaccuracy in the detail of the phthisical symptoms, is a mere fetch, as the Cockneys have it, in order to make a very few little children believe that it, the Post, is not quite so stupid as a post proverbially is. It knows nearly as much about pathology as it does about English grammar — and I really hope it will not feel called upon to blush at the compliment. I represented the symptoms of M. Valdemar as “severe,” to be sure. I put an extreme case; for it was necessary that I should leave on the reader's mind no doubt as to the certainty of death without the aid of the Mesmerist — but such symptoms might have [page 409:] appeared — the identical symptoms have appeared, and will be presented again and again. Had the Post been only half as honest as ignorant, it would have owned that it disbelieved for no reason more profound than that which influences all dunces in disbelieving — it would have owned that it doubted the thing merely because the thing was a “wonderful” thing, and had never yet been printed in a book.

CXVI. — METAPHOR. [[M-149]]

In the way of original, striking, and well-sustained metaphor, we can call to mind few finer things than this — to be found in James Puckle's “Grey Cap for a Green Head:” “In speaking of the dead so fold up your discourse that their virtues may be outwardly shown, while their vices are wrapped up in silence.”


Mill says that he has “demonstrated” his propositions. Just in the same way Anaxagoras demonstrated snow to be black, (which, perhaps, it is, if we could see the thing in the proper light), and just in the same way the French advocate, Linguet, with Hippocrates in his hand, demonstrated bread to be a slow poison. The worst of the matter is that propositions such as these seldom stay demonstrated long enough to be thoroughly understood.

CXVIII. — MOB. [[M-226]]

The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.


The God-abstractions of the modern polytheism are nearly in as sad a state of perplexity and promiscuity as were the more substantial deities of the Greeks. Not a quality named that does not impinge upon some one other; and Porphyry admits that Vesta, Rhea, Ceres, Themis, Proserpina, Bacchus, Attis, Adonis, Silenus, Priapus, and the Satyrs, were merely different terms for the same thing[[.]] [page 410:] Even gender was never precisely settled. Servius on Virgil mentions a Venus with a beard. In Macrobius, too, Calvus talks of her as if she were a man; while Valerius Soranus expressly calls Jupiter “the Mother of the Gods.”


“Accursed be the heart that does not wildly throb, and palsied be the eye that will not weep over the woes of the wanderer of Switzerland.” — Monthly Register, 1807.

This is “dealing damnation round the land” to some purpose; — upon the reader, and not upon the author as usual. For my part I shall be one of the damned; for I have in vain endeavoured to see even a shadow of merit in anything ever written by either of the Montgomeries.

CXXI. — MOORE. [[SM-017]]

Thomas Moore — the most skilful literary artist of his day — perhaps of any day — a man who stands in the singular and really wonderful predicament of being undervalued on account of the profusion with which he has scattered about him his good things. The brilliancy on any one page of Lalla Rookh would have sufficed to establish that very reputation which has been in a great measure self-dimmed by the galaxied lustre of the entire book. It seems that the horrid laws of political economy cannot be evaded even by the inspired, and that a perfect versification, a vigourous style, and a never-tiring fancy, may, like the water we drink and die without, yet despise, be so plentifully set forth as to be absolutely of no value at all.


With how unaccountable an obstinacy even our best writers persist in talking about “moral courage — ” as if there could be any courage that was not moral. The adjective is improperly applied to the subject instead of the object. The energy which overcomes fear — whether fear of evil threatening the person or threatening the impersonal circumstances amid which we exist — is, of course, simply a mental energy — is, of course, simply “moral.” But in [page 411:] speaking of “moral courage” we imply the existence of physical. Quite as reasonable an expression would be that of “bodily thought” or of “muscular imagination.”


Among the moralists who keep themselves erect by the perpetual swallowing of pokers, it is the fashion to decry the “fashionable” novels. These works have their demerits; but a vast influence which they exert for an undeniable good, has never yet been duly considered. Ingenuos didicisse fideliter libros, emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.” Now, the fashionable novels are just the books which most do circulate among the class unfashionable; and their effect in softening the worst callosities — in smoothing the most disgusting asperities of vulgarism, is prodigious. With the herd, to admire and to attempt imitation are the same thing. What if, in this case, the manners imitated are frippery; better frippery than brutality — and, after all, there is little danger that the intrinsic value of the sturdiest iron will be impaired by a coating of even the most diaphanous gilt.


It is not proper (to use a gentle word), nor does it seem courageous, to attack our foe by name in spirit and in effect, so that all the world shall know whom we mean, while we say to ourselves, “I have not attacked this man by name in the eye, and according to the letter, of the law” — yet how often are men who call themselves gentlemen, guilty of this meanness! We need reform at this point of our Literary Morality: — very sorely, too, at another — the system of anonymous reviewing. Not one respectable word can be said in defence of this most unfair — this most despicable and cowardly practice.


It is observable that, in his brief account of the Creation, Moses employs the words, Bara Elohim (the Gods created), no less than thirty times, using the noun in the plural [page 412:] with the verb in the singular. Elsewhere, however — in Deuteronomy, for example — he employs the singular, Eloah.


Since it has become fashionable to trundle houses about the streets, should there not be some remodeling of the legal definition of reality, as “that which is permanent, fixed and immoveable, that cannot be carried out of its place?” According to this, a house is by no means real estate.

CXXVII. [[J. G. A. MULLER]] [[M-071]]

Translation of the Book of Jonah into German Hexameters. By J. G. A. Muller. Contained in the “Memorabilienvon Paulus.

Here is something at which I find it impossible not to laugh; and yet, I laugh without knowing why. That incongruity is the principle of all non-convulsive laughter, is to my mind as clearly demonstrated as any problem in the “Principia Mathematica;” but here I cannot trace the incongruous. It is there, I know. Still I do not see it. In the meantime let me laugh.


The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge, is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader's way piles of lumber, in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter peradventure interspersed.

CXXIX. — MUSIC. [[M-271]]

Mozart declared, on his death-bed, that he “began to see what may be done in music;” and it is to be hoped that DeMeyer and the rest of the spasmodists will, eventually, begin to understand what may not be done in this particular branch of the Fine Arts.


The phrase of which our poets, and more especially our [page 413:] orators, are so fond — the phrase “music of the spheres” — has arisen simply from a misconception of the Platonic word μουσικη — which, with the Athenians, included not merely the harmonies of tune and time, but proportion generally. In recommending the study of “music” as “the best education for the soul,” Plato referred to the cultivation of the Taste, in contradistinction from that of the Pure Reason. By the “music of the spheres” is meant the agreements — the adaptations — in a word, the proportions — developed in the astronomical laws. He had no allusion to music in our understanding of the term. The word “mosaic,” which we derive from μουσικη, refers, in like manner, to the proportion, or harmony of colour, observed — or which should be observed — in the department of Art so entitled.


I hardly know how to account for the repeated failures of John Neal as regards the construction of his works. His art is great and of a high character — but it is massive and undetailed. He seems to be either deficient in a sense of completeness, or unstable in temperament; so that he becomes wearied with his work before getting it done. He always begins well — vigourously — startlingly — proceeds by fits — much at random — now prosing, now gossiping, now running away with his subject, now exciting vivid interest; but his conclusions are sure to be hurried and indistinct; so that the reader, perceiving a falling-off where he expects a climax, is pained, and, closing the book with dissatisfaction, is in no mood to give the author credit for the vivid sensations which have been aroused during the progress of perusal. Of all literary foibles the most fatal, perhaps, is that of defective climax. Nevertheless, I should be inclined to rank John Neal first, or at all events second, among our men of indisputable genius. Is it, or is it not a fact, that the air of a Democracy agrees better with mere Talent than with Genius? [page 414:]


A book* which puzzles me beyond measure, since, while agreeing with its general conclusions, (except where it discusses prevision), I invariably find fault with the reasoning through which the conclusions are attained. I think the treatise grossly illogical throughout. For example: — the origin of the work is thus stated in an introductory chapter:

“About twelve months since, I was asked by some friends to write a paper against Mesmerism — and I was furnished with materials by a highly esteemed quondam pupil, which proved incontestably that under some circumstances the operator might be duped — that hundreds of enlightened persons might equally be deceived — and certainly went far to show that the pretended science was wholly a delusion — a system of fraud and jugglery by which the imaginations of the credulous were held in thraldom through the arts of the designing. Perhaps in an evil hour I assented to the proposition thus made — but on reflection I found that the facts before me only led to the direct proof that certain phenomena might be counterfeited; and the existence of counterfeit coin is rather a proof that there is somewhere the genuine standard gold to be imitated.”

The fallacy here lies in a mere variation of what is called “begging the question.” Counterfeit coin is said to prove the existence of genuine: — this, of course, is no more than the truism that there can be no counterfeit where there is no genuine — just as there can be no badness where there is no goodness — the terms being purely relative. But because there can be no counterfeit where there is no original, does it in any manner follow that any undemonstrated original exists? In seeing a spurious coin we know it to be such by comparison with coins admitted to be genuine; but were no coin admitted to be genuine, how should we establish the counterfeit, and what right should we have to talk of counterfeits at all? Now, in the case of Mesmerism, our author is merely begging the admission. In [page 415:] saying that the existence of counterfeit proves the existence of real Mesmerism, he demands that the real be admitted. Either he demands this or there is no shadow of force in his proposition — for it is clear that we can pretend to be that which is not. A man, for instance, may feign himself a sphynx or a griffin, but it would never do to regard as thus demonstrated the actual existence of either griffins or sphynxes. A word alone — the word “counterfeit” — has been sufficient to lead Mr. Newnharn astray. People cannot be properly said to “counterfeit” prévision, etc., but to feign these phenomena.

Dr. Newnham's argument, of course, is by no means original with him, although he seems to pride himself on it as if it were. Dr. More says: “That there should be so universal a fame and fear of that which never was, nor is, nor can be ever in the world, is to me the greatest miracle of all. If there had not been, at some time or other, true miracles, it had not been so easy to impose on the people by false. The alchemist would never go about to sophisticate metals, to pass them off for true gold and silver, unless that such a thing was acknowledged as true gold and silver in the world.”

This is precisely the same idea as that of Dr. Newnham, and belongs to that extensive class of argumentation which is all point — deriving its whole effect from epigrammatism. That the belief in ghosts, or in a Deity, or in a future state, or in anything else credible or incredible — that any such belief is universal, demonstrates nothing more than that which needs no demonstration — the human unanimity — the identity of construction in the human brain — an identity of which the inevitable result must be, upon the whole, similar deductions from similar data.

Most especially do I disagree with the author of this book in his (implied) disparagement of the work of Chauncey Hare Townshend — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come.


I cannot say that I ever fairly comprehended the force of the term “insult,” until I was given to understand, one day, by a member of the “North American Review” clique [page 416:] that this journal was “not only willing but anxious to render me that justice which had been already rendered me by the ‘Revue Francaise’ and the ‘Revue des Deux Mondes’ ” — but was “restrained from so doing” by my “invincible spirit of antagonism.” I wish the “North American Review” to express no opinion of me whatever — for I have none of it. In the meantime, as I see no motto on its title-page, let me recommend it one from Sterne's “Letter from France.” Here it is: — “As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of asses on the top of one of the mountains — how they viewed and reviewed us!”


This “species of nothingness” is quite as reasonable, at all events, as any “kind of somethingness.” See Cowley's “Creation,” where,

An unshaped kind of something first appeared.


I believe that odours have an altogether idiosyncratic force, in affecting us through association; a force differing essentially from that of objects addressing the touch, the taste, the sight, or the hearing.


Von Raumer says that Enslen, a German optician, conceived the idea of throwing a shadowy figure, by optical means, into the chair of Banquo; and that the thing was readily done. Intense effect was produced; and I do not doubt that an American audience might be electrified by the feat. But our managers not only have no invention of their own, but no energy to avail themselves of that of others.


All true men must rejoice to perceive the decline of the miserable rant and cant against originality, which was so much in vogue a few years ago among a class of microscopical critics, and which at one period threatened to degrade all American literature to the level of Flemish art. [page 417:]

Of puns it has been said that those most dislike who are least able to utter them; but with far more of truth may it be asserted that invectives against originality proceed only from persons at once hypocritical and common-place. I say hypocritical — for the love of novelty is an indisputable element of the moral nature of man; and since to be original is merely to be novel, the dolt who professes a distaste for originality, in letters or elsewhere, proves in no degree his aversion for the thing in itself, but merely that uncomfortable hatred which ever arises in the heart of an envious man for an excellence he cannot hope to attain.


Original characters, so called, can only be critically praised as such, either when presenting qualities known in real life, but never before depicted, (a combination nearly impossible) or when presenting qualities (moral, or physical, or both) which, although unknown, or even known to be hypothetical, are so skilfully adapted to the circumstances which surround them, that our sense of fitness is not offended, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why those things might not have been, which we are still satisfied are not. The latter species of originality appertains to the loftier regions of the Ideal.

CXXXIX. — OSSIAN. [[M-132]]

It is James Montgomery who thinks proper to style McPherson's “Ossian” a “collection of halting, dancing, lumbering, grating, nondescript paragraphs.”



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 400:]

*  Wm. W. Lord, a native of Western New York, rector of an Episcopal church at Vicksburg.

  Of the solar rays — in the “Optics.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 405:]

*  “Memoirs and Letters of Madame Malibran,” by the Countess of Merlin.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 414:]

*  “Human Magnetism: Its Claim to Dispassionate Inquiry. Being an Attempt to show the Utility of its Application for the Relief of Human Suffering.” By W. Newnham, M.R.S.L., author of the “Reciprocal Influence of Body and Mind.” [[Wiley and Putnam.]]





[S:0 - JHI, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Marginalia (Items 95-139) (J. H. Ingram, 1875)