Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Marginalia (Items 140-194),” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. III, 1875, pp. 417-456


[page 417, continued:]


It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.


We have read Mr. Paulding’s Life of Washington with a degree of interest seldom excited in us by the perusal of any book whatever. We are convinced by a deliberate [page 418:] examination of the design, manner, and rich material of the work, that, as it grows in age, it will grow in the estimation of our countrymen, and, finally, will not fail to take a deeper hold upon the public mind, and upon the public affections, than any work upon the same subject, or of a similar nature, which has been yet written — or, possibly, which may be written hereafter. Indeed, we cannot perceive the necessity of anything farther upon the great theme of Washington. Mr. Paulding has completely and most beautifully filled the vacuum which the works of Marshall and Sparks have left open. He has painted the boy, the man, the husband, and the christian. He has introduced us to the private affections, aspirations, and charities of that hero whose affections of all affections were the most serene, whose aspirations the most God-like, and whose charities the most gentle and pure. He has taken us abroad with the patriot-farmer in his rambles about his homestead. He has seated us in his study and shown us the warrior-christian in unobtrusive communion with his God. He has done all this too, and more, in a simple and quiet manner, in a manner peculiarly his own, and which mainly because it is his own, cannot fail to be exceedingly effective. Yet it is very possible that the public may, for many years to come, overlook the rare merits of a work whose want of arrogant assumption is so little in keeping with the usages of the day, and whose striking simplicity and na├»veté of manner give, to a cursory examination, so little evidence of the labour of composition. We have no fears, however, for the future. Such books as these before us, go down to posterity like rich wines, with a certainty of being more valued as they go. They force themselves with the gradual but rapidly accumulating power of strong wedges into the hearts and understandings of a community.

In regard to the style of Mr. Paulding’s Washington, it would scarcely be doing it justice to speak of it merely as well adapted to its subject, and to its immediate design. Perhaps a rigorous examination would detect an occasional want of euphony, and some inaccuracies of syntactical arrangement. But nothing could be more out of place than any [page 419:] such examination in respect to a book whose forcible, rich, vivid, and comprehensive English might advantageously be held up, as a model for the young writers of the land. There is no better literary manner than the manner of Mr. Paulding. Certainly no American, and possibly no living writer of England, has more of those numerous peculiarities which go to the formation of a happy style. It is questionable, we think, whether any writer of any country combines as many of these peculiarities with as much of that essential negative virtue, the absence of affectation. We repeat, as our confident opinion, that it would be difficult, even with great care and labour, to improve upon the general manner of the volumes now before us, and that they contain many long individual passages of a force and beauty not to be surpassed by the finest passages of the finest writers in any time or country. It is this striking character in the Washington of Mr. Paulding — striking and peculiar indeed at a season when we are so culpably inattentive to all matters of this nature, as to mistake for style the fine airs at second hand of the silliest romancers — it is this character we say, which should insure the fulfilment of the writer’s principal design, in the immediate introduction of his book into every respectable academy in the land.


Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least the perfection of “respectability” in good earnest. On the other hand, accuse an honourable man, too pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him with a perverse ambition to show you that you are not altogether in the wrong.


We are not among those who regard the genius of Petrarch as a subject for enthusiastic admiration. The characteristics of his poetry are not traits of the highest, or even of a high order; and in accounting for his fame, the discriminating critic will look rather to the circumstances which surrounded the man, than to the literary merits of the [page 420:] pertinacious sonnetteer. Grace and tenderness we grant him — but these qualities are surely insufficient to establish his poetical apotheosis.

In other respects he is entitled to high consideration. As a patriot, notwithstanding some accusations which have been rather urged than established, we can only regard him with approval. In his republican principles; in his support of Rienzi at the risk of the displeasure of the Colonna family; in his whole political conduct, in short, he seems to have been nobly and disinterestedly zealous for the welfare of his country. But Petrarch is most important when we look upon him as the bridge by which, over the dark gulf of the middle ages, the knowledge of the old world made its passage into the new. His influence on what is termed the revival of letters was, perhaps, greater than that of any man who ever lived; certainly far greater than that of any of his immediate contemporaries. His ardent zeal in recovering and transcribing the lost treasures of antique lore cannot be too highly appreciated. But for him, many of our most valued classics might have been numbered with Pindar’s hymns and dithyrambics. He devoted days and nights to this labour of love; snatching numerous precious books from the very brink of oblivion. His judgment in these things was strikingly correct, while his erudition, for the age in which he lived, and for the opportunities he enjoyed, has always been a subject of surprise.


An infinity of error makes its way into our Philosophy, through Man’s habit of considering himself a citizen of a world solely — of an individual planet — instead of at least occasionally contemplating his position as cosmopolite proper — as a denizen of the universe.


“Advancing briskly with a rapier, he did the business for him at a blow.” — Smollett.

This vulgar colloquialism had its type among the Romans. Et ferro subitus grassatus, agit rem. — Juvenal. [page 421:]


It may well be doubted whether a single paragraph of merit can be found either in the “Koran” of Lawrence Sterne, or in the “Lacon” of Colton, of which paragraph the origin, or at least the germ, may not be traced to Seneca, to Plutarch, (through Machiavelli) to Machiavelli himself, to Bacon, to Burdon, to Burton, to Bolingbroke, to Rochefoucault, to Balzac, the author of “La Manière de Bien Penser,” or to Bielfeld, the German, who wrote, in French, “Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle.”


A rather bold and quite unnecessary plagiarism — from a book too well known to promise impunity.

“It is now full time to begin to brush away the insects of literature, whether creeping or fluttering, which have too long crawled over and soiled the intellectual ground of this country. It is high time to shake the little sickly stems of many a puny plant, and make its fading flowerets fall.” — “Monthly Register” — p. 243 — Vol. 2 — N. York, 1807.

On the other hand —

“I have brushed away the insects of Literature, whether fluttering or creeping; I have shaken the little stems of many a puny plant, and the flowerets have fallen.” — Preface to the “Pursuits of Literature.”


A long time ago — twenty-three or four years at least — Edward C. Pinckney, of Baltimore, published an exquisite poem entitled “A Health.” It was profoundly admired by the critical few, but had little circulation: — this for no better reason than that the author was born too far South. I quote a few lines:

Affections are as thoughts to her,

The measures of her hours —

Her feelings have the fragrancy,

The freshness of young flowers.

To her the better elements

And kindlier stars have given

A forth so fair, that, like the air,

Tis less of Earth than Heaven. [page 422:]

Now, in 1842, Mr. George Hill published “The Ruins of Athens and Other Poems” — and from one of the “Other Poems” I quote what follows:

And thoughts go sporting through her mind

Like children among flowers;

And deeds of gentle goodness are

The measures of her hours.

In soul or face she bears no trace

Of one from Eden driven,

But like the rainbow seems, though born

Of Earth, a part of Heaven.

Is this plagiarism or is it not? — I merely ask for information.


In a “Hymn for Christmas,” by Mrs. Hemans, we find the following stanza:

Oh, lovely voices of the sky

Which hymned the Saviour’s birth,

Are ye not singing still on high,

Ye that sang “Peace on Earth”?

To us yet speak the strains

Wherewith, in times gone by,

Ye blessed the Syrian swains,

Oh, voices of the sky!

And at page 305 of “The Christian Keepsake and Missionary Annual for 1840” — a Philadelphian Annual — we find “A Christmas Carol,” by Richard W. Dodson: — the first stanza running thus:

Angel voices of the sky!

Ye that hymned Messiah’s birth,

Sweetly singing from on high

“Peace, Goodwill to all on earth!”

Oh, to us impart those strains!

Bid our doubts and fears to cease!

Ye that cheered the Syrian swains,

Cheer us with that song of peace!



The ordinary pickpocket filches a purse, and the matter is at an end. He neither takes honour to himself, openly, [page 423:] on the score of the purloined purse, nor does he subject the individual robbed to the charge of pick-pocketism in his own person; by so much the less odious is he, then, than the filcher of literary property. It is impossible, we should think, to imagine a more sickening spectacle than that of the plagiarist, who walks among mankind with an erecter step, and who feels his heart beat with a prouder impulse, on account of plaudits which he is conscious are the due of another. It is the purity, the nobility, the ethereality of just fame — it is the contrast between this ethereality and the grossness of the crime of theft, which places the sin of plagiarism in so detestable a light. We are horror-stricken to find existing in the same bosom the soul-uplifting thirst for fame, and the debasing propensity to pilfer. It is the anomaly — the discord — which so grossly offends.


In a reply to a letter signed “Outis,” and defending Mr. Longfellow from certain charges supposed to have been made against him by myself, I took occasion to assert that “of the class of willful plagiarists nine out of ten are authors of established reputation who plunder recondite, neglected, or forgotten books.” I came to this conclusion à priori; but experience has confirmed me in it. Here is a plagiarism from Channing; and as it is perpetrated by an anonymous writer in a Monthly Magazine, the theft seems at war with my assertion — until it is seen that the Magazine in question is Campbell’s New Monthly for August, 1828. Channing, at that time, was comparatively unknown; and, besides, the plagiarism appeared in a foreign country, where there was little probability of detection.

Channing, in his essay on Bonaparte, says:

“We would observe that military talent, even of the highest order, is far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is not conversant with the highest and richest objects of thought. . . . Still the chief work of a general is to apply physical force — to remove physical obstructions — to avail himself of physical aids and advantages — to act on matter — to overcome rivers, ramparts, mountains, and human muscles; and these [page 424:] are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest order: — and accordingly nothing is more common than to find men, eminent in this department, who are almost wholly wanting in the noblest energies of the soul — in imagination and taste — in the capacity of enjoying works of genius — in large views of human nature — in the moral sciences — in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society, and in original conceptions on the great subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings.”

The thief in “The New Monthly,” says:

“Military talent, even of the highest grade, is very far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is never made conversant with the more delicate and abstruse of mental operations. It is used to apply physical force; to remove physical force; to remove physical obstructions; to avail itself of physical aids and advantages; and all these are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest and rarest order. Nothing is more common than to find men, eminent in the science and practice of war, wholly wanting in the nobler energies of the soul; in imagination, in taste, in enlarged views of human nature, in the moral sciences, in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society; or in original conceptions on the great subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings.”

The article in “The New Monthly” is on “The State of Parties.” The italics are mine.

Apparent plagiarisms frequently arise from an author’s self-repetition. He finds that something he has already published has fallen dead — been overlooked — or that it is peculiarly àpropos to another subject now under discussion. He therefore introduces the passage; often without allusion to his having printed it before; and sometimes he introduces it into an anonymous article. An anonymous writer is thus, now and then, unjustly accused of plagiarism — when the sin is merely that of self-repetition. In the present case, however, there has been a deliberate plagiarism of the silliest as well as meanest species. Trusting to the obscurity of his original, the plagiarist has fallen upon the idea of killing two birds with one stone — of dispensing with all disguise but that of decoration. Channing says “order” — the writer in the New Monthly says “grade.” [page 425:] The former says that this order is “far from holding,” etc. — the latter says it is “very far from holding.” The one says that military talent is “not conversant,” and so on — the other says “it is never made conversant.” The one speaks of “the highest and richest objects” — the other of “the more delicate and abstruse.” Channing speaks of “thought” — the thief of “mental operations.” Channing mentions “intelligence of the highest order” — the thief will have it of “the highest and rarest.” Channing observes that military talent is often “almost wholly wanting,” etc. — the thief maintains it to be “wholly wanting.” Channing alludes to “large views of human nature” — the thief can be content with nothing less than “enlarged” ones. Finally, the American having been satisfied with a reference to “subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings,” the Cockney puts him to shame at once by discoursing about “subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings” — as if one could be absorbed, without being occupied, by a subject — as if of were here any thing more than two superfluous letters — and as if there were any chance of the reader’s supposing that the understandings in question were the understandings of frogs, or jackasses, or Johnny Bulls.

By the way, in a case of this kind, whenever there is a question as to who is the original and who the plagiarist, the point may be determined, almost invariably, by observing which passage is amplified, or exaggerated, in tone. To disguise his stolen horse, the uneducated thief cuts off the tail; but the educated thief prefers tying on a new tail at the end of the old one, and painting them both sky blue.

CLII. — A PLOT. [[M-082]]

Here is a plot which, with all its complexity, has no adaptation — no dependency; — it is involute and nothing more — having all the air of G——’s wig, or the cycles and epicycles in Ptolemy’s “Almagest.” [page 426:]


There lies a deep and sealéd well

Within yon leafy forest hid,

Whose pent and lonely waters swell

Its confines chill and drear amid.

This putting the adjective after the noun is, merely, an inexcusable Gallicism; but the putting the preposition after the noun is alien to all language and in opposition to all its principles. Such things, in general, serve only to betray the versifier’s poverty of resource; and, when an inversion of this kind occurs, we say to ourselves, “Here the poet lacked the skill to make out his line without distorting the natural or colloquial order of the words.” Now and then, however, we must refer the error not to deficiency of skill, but to something far less defensible — to an idea that such things belong to the essence of poetry — that it needs them to distinguish it from prose — that we are poetical, in a word, very much in the ratio of our unprosaicalness at these points. Even while employing the phrase “poetic license,” — a phrase which has to answer for an infinity of sins — people who think in this way seem to have an indistinct conviction that the license in question involves a necessity of being adopted. The true artist will avail himself of no “license” whatever. The very word will disgust him; for it says — “Since you seem unable to manage without these peccadillo advantages, you must have them, I suppose; and the world, half-shutting its eyes, will do its best not to see the awkwardness which they stamp upon your poem.”

Few things have greater tendency than inversion, to render verse feeble and ineffective. In most cases where a line is spoken of as “forcible,” the force may be referred to directness of expression. A vast majority of the passages which have become household through frequent quotation, owe their popularity either to this directness, or, in general, to the scorn of “poetic license.” In short as regards verbal construction, the more prosaic a poetical style is, the better. Through this species of prosaicism, Cowper, with scarcely one of the higher poetical elements, came very near making [page 427:] his age fancy him the equal of Pope; and to the same cause are attributable three-fourths of that unusual point and force for which Thomas Moore is distinguished. It is the prosaicism of these two writers to which is owing their especial quotability.

CLIV. — POETRY. [[M-152]]

Bielfeld, the author of “Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle,” defines poetry as “l’art d’exprimer les pensées par la fiction.” The Germans have two words in full accordance with this definition, absurd as it is — the terms Dichtkunst, the art of fiction, and Dichten, to feign — which are generally used for poetry and to make verses.

CLV. — POETRY. [[M-248]]

My friend, ——, can never commence what he fancies a poem, (he is a fanciful man, after all) without first elaborately “invoking the Muses.” Like so many she-dogs of John of Nivelles, however, the more he invokes them, the more they decline obeying the invocation.


If need were, I should have little difficulty, perhaps, in defending a certain apparent dogmatism to which I am prone, on the topic of versification.

“What is Poetry?” notwithstanding Leigh Hunt’s rigmarolic attempt at answering it, is a query that, with great care and deliberate agreement before-hand on the exact value of certain leading words, may, possibly, be settled to the partial satisfaction of a few analytical intellects, but which, in the existing condition of metaphysics, never can be settled to the satisfaction of the majority; for the question is purely metaphysical, and the whole science of metaphysics is at present a chaos, through the impossibility of fixing the meanings of the words which its very nature compels it to employ. But as regards versification, this difficulty is only partial; for although one-third of the topic may be considered metaphysical, and thus may be mooted at the fancy of this individual or of that, still the remaining [page 428:] two-thirds belong, undeniably, to the mathematics. The questions ordinarily discussed with so much gravity in regard to rhythm, metre, etc., are susceptible of positive adjustment by demonstration. Their laws are merely a portion of the Median laws of form and quantity — of relation. In respect, then, to any of these ordinary questions — these sillily moot points which so often arise in common criticism — the prosodist would speak as weakly in saying “this or that proposition is probably so and so, or possibly so and so,” as would the mathematician in admitting that, in his humble opinion, or if he were not greatly mistaken, any two sides of a triangle were, together, greater than the third side. I must add, however, as some palliation of the discussions referred to, and of the objections so often urged with a sneer to “particular theories of versification binding no one but their inventor” — that there is really extant no such work as a Prosody Raisonnée. The Prosodies of the schools are merely collections of vague laws, with their more vague exceptions, based upon no principles whatever, but extorted in the most speculative manner from the usages of the ancients, who had no laws beyond those of their ears and fingers. “And these were sufficient,” it will be said, “since ‘The Iliad’ is melodious and harmonious beyond any thing of modern times.” Admit this: — but neither do we write in Greek, nor has the invention of modern times been as yet exhausted. An analysis based on the natural laws of which the bard of Scios was ignorant, would suggest multitudinous improvements to the best passages of even “The Iliad” — nor does it in any manner follow from the supposititious fact that Homer found in his ears and fingers a satisfactory system of rules (the point which I have just denied) — nor does it follow, I say, from this, that the rules which we deduce from the Homeric effects are to supersede those immutable principles of time, quantity, etc. — the mathematics, in short, of music — which must have stood to these Homeric effects in the relation of causes — the mediate causes of which these “ears and fingers” are simply the intermedia. [page 429:]


In Colton’s “American Review” for October, 1845, a gentleman, well known for his scholarship, has a forcible paper on “The Scotch School of Philosophy and Criticism.” But although the paper is “forcible,” it presents the most singular admixture of error and truth — the one dovetailed into the other, after a fashion which is novel, to say the least of it. Were I to designate in a few words what the whole article demonstrated, I should say “the folly of not beginning at the beginning — of neglecting the giant Moulineau’s advice to his friend Ram.” Here is a passage from the essay in question:

“The Doctors [Campbell and Johnson] both charge Pope with error and inconsistency: — error in supposing that in English, of metrical lines unequal in the number of syllables and pronounced in equal times, the longer suggests celerity (this being the principle of the Alexandrine:) — inconsistency, in that Pope himself uses the same contrivance to convey the contrary idea of slowness. But why in English? It is not and cannot be disputed that, in the Hexameter of the Greeks and Latins — which is the model in this matter — what is distinguished as the ‘dactylic line’ was uniformly applied to express velocity. How was it to do so? Simply from the fact of being pronounced in an equal time with, while containing a greater number of syllables or ‘bars’ than the ordinary or average measure; as, on the other hand, the spondaic line, composed of the minimum number, was, upon the same principle, used to indicate slowness. So, too, of the Alexandrine in English versification. No, says Campbell, there is a difference: the Alexandrine is not in fact, like the dactylic line, pronounced in the common time. But does this alter the principle? What is the rationale of Metre, whether the classical hexameter or the English heroic?”

I have written an essay on the “Rationale of Verse,” in which the whole topic is surveyed ab initio, and with reference to general and immutable principles. To this essay (which will soon appear) I refer Mr. Bristed. In the meantime, without troubling myself to ascertain whether Doctors Johnson and Campbell are wrong, or whether Pope is wrong, or whether the reviewer is right or wrong, at this point or at that, let me succinctly state what is the truth on the topics at issue.

And first; the same principles, in all cases, govern all verse. What is [page 430:] true in English is true in Greek.

Secondly; in a series of lines, if one line contains more syllables than the law of the verse demands, and if, nevertheless, this line is pronounced in the same time, upon the whole, as the rest of the lines, then this line suggests celerity — on account of the increased rapidity of enunciation required. Thus in the Greek Hexameter the dactylic lines — those most abounding in dactyls — serve best to convey the idea of rapid motion. The spondaic lines convey that of slowness.

Thirdly; it is a gross mistake to suppose that the Greek dactylic line is “the model in this matter” — the matter of the English Alexandrine. The Greek dactylic line is of the same number of feet — bars — beats — pulsations — as the ordinary dactylic-spondaic lines among which it occurs. But the Alexandrine is longer by one foot — by one pulsation — than the pentameters among which it arises. For its pronunciation it demands more time, and therefore, ceteris paribus, it would well serve to convey the impression of length, or duration, and thus, indirectly, of slowness. I say ceteris paribas. But, by varying conditions, we can effect a total change in the impression conveyed. When the idea of slowness is conveyed by the Alexandrine, it is not conveyed by any slower enunciation of syllables — that is to say, it is not directly conveyed — but indirectly, through the idea of length in the whole line. Now, if we wish to convey, by means of an Alexandrine, the impression of velocity, we readily do so by giving rapidity to our enunciation of the syllables composing the several feet. To effect this, however, we must have more syllables, or we shall get through the whole line too quickly for the intended time. To get more syllables, all we have to do, is to use, in place of iambuses, what our prosodies call anapœsts [[anapæsts.]]* Thus, in the line, [page 431:]

Flies o’er the unbending corn and skims along the main,

the syllables “the unbend” form an anapaest and, demanding unusual rapidity of enunciation, in order that we may get them in the ordinary time of an iambus, serve to suggest celerity. By the elision of e in the, as is customary, the whole of the intended effect is lost; for th’unbend is nothing more than the usual iambus. In a word, wherever an Alexandrine expresses celerity, we shall find it to contain one or more anapaests — the more anapaests, the more decided the impression. But the tendency of the Alexandrine consisting merely of the usual iambuses, is to convey slowness — although it conveys this idea feebly, on account of conveying it indirectly. It follows, from what I have said, that the common pentameter, interspersed with anapœsts [[anapæsts]], would better convey celerity than the Alexandrine interspersed with them in a similar degree; — and it unquestionably does.


At Ermenonville, too, there is a striking instance of the Gallic rhythm with which a Frenchman regards the English verse. There Gerardin has the following inscription to the memory of Shenstone:

This plain stone

To William Shenstone.

In his writings he displayed

A mind natural;

At Leasowes he laid

Arcadian greens rural.

There are few Parisians, speaking English, who would find anything particularly the matter with this epitaph.


I have never yet seen an English heroic verse on the proper model of the Greek — although there have been innumerable attempts, among which those of Coleridge are, perhaps, the most absurd, next to those of Sir Philip Sidney and Longfellow. The author of “The Vision of Rubeta” [page 432:] has done better, and Percival better yet; but no one has seemed to suspect that the natural preponderance of spondaic words in the Latin and Greek must, in the English, be supplied by art — that is to say, by a careful culling of the few spondaic words which the language affords — as, for example, here:

Man is a | complex, | compound, | compost, | yet is he | God-born.

This, to all intents, is a Greek hexameter, but then its spondees are spondees, and not mere trochees. The verses of Coleridge and others are dissonant, for the simple reason that there is no equality in time between a trochee and a dactyl. When Sir Philip Sidney writes,

So to the | woods Love | runnes as | well as — [[|]] rides to the | palace,

he makes an heroic verse only to the eye; for “woods Love” is the only true spondee, “runs as,” “well as,” and “palace,” have each the first syllable long and the second short — that is to say, they are all trochees, and occupy less time than the dactyls or spondee — hence the halting. Now, all this seems to be the simplest thing in the world, and the only wonder is how men professing to be scholars should attempt to engraft a verse, of which the spondee is an element, upon a stock which repels the spondee as antagonistical.

CLX. — POPE A FOOL. [[M-159]]

“So violent was the state of parties in England, that I was assured by several that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward and Pope a fool.” — Voltaire.

Both propositions have since been very seriously entertained, quite independently of all party-feeling. That Pope was a fool, indeed, seems to be an established point, at present, with the Crazy-ites — what else shall I call them?


I cannot tell how it happens, but, unless, now and then, in a case of portrait-painting, very few of our artists can justly be held guilty of the crime imputed by Apelles to Protogenes — that of “being too natural.” [page 433:]


The modern reformist Philosophy which annihilates the individual by way of aiding the mass; and the late reformist Legislation, which prohibits pleasure with the view of advancing happiness, seem to be chips of that old block of a French feudal law which, to prevent young partridges from being disturbed, imposed penalites upon hoeing and weeding.

CLXIII. — PUG-NOSE. [[M-069]]

Not so: — A gentleman, with a pug nose is a contradiction in terms. — “Who can live idly and without manual labour, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he alone should be called master and be taken for a gentleman.” — Sir Thomas Smith’s “Commonwealth of England.”


Talking of puns: — “Why do they not give us quail for dinner, as usual?” demanded Count Fessis, the other day, of H——, the classicist and sportsman.

“Because at this season,” replied H——, who was dozing, “qualis sopor fessis.” (Quail is so poor, Fessis.)


That Demosthenes “turned out very badly,” appears, beyond dispute, from a passage in “Meker de vet. et rect. Pron. Ling. Græcæ,’’ where we read “Nec illi (Demostheni) turpe videbatur, optimis relictis magistris, ad canes se conferre,” etc., etc.: — that is to say, Demosthenes was not ashamed to quit good society and “go to the dogs.”


That punctuation is important all agree; but how few comprehend the extent of its importance! The writer who neglects punctuation, or mix-punctuates, is liable to be misunderstood — this, according to the popular idea, is the sum of the evils arising from heedlessness or ignorance. It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force, [page 434:] its spirit, its point, by improper punctuation. For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.

There is no treatise on the topic — and there is no topic on which a treatise is more needed. There seems to exist a vulgar notion that the subject is one of pure conventionality, and cannot be brought within the limits of intelligible and consistent rule. And yet, if fairly looked in the face, the whole matter is so plain that its rationale may be read as we run. If not anticipated, I shall, hereafter, make an attempt at a magazine paper on “The Philosophy of Point.”

In the meantime let me say a word or two of the dash. Every writer for the press, who has any sense of the accurate, must have been frequently mortified and vexed at the distortion of his sentences by the printer’s now general substitution of a semi-colon, or comma, for the dash of the MS. The total or nearly total disuse of the latter point, has been brought about by the revulsion consequent upon its excessive employment about twenty years ago. The Byronic poets were all dash. John Neal, in his earlier novels, exaggerated its use into the grossest abuse — although his very error arose from the philosophical and self-dependent spirit which has always distinguished him, and which will even yet lead him, if I am not greatly mistaken in the man, to do something for the literature of the country which the country “ will not willingly,” and cannot possibly, “let die.” Without entering now into the why, let me observe that the printer may always ascertain when the dash of the MS. is properly and when improperly employed, by bearing in mind that this point represents a second thought — an emendation. In using it just above I have exemplified its use. The words “an emendation” are, speaking with reference to grammatical construction, put in apposition with the words “a second thought.” Having written these latter words, I reflected whether it would not be possible to render their meaning more distinct by certain other words. Now, instead of erasing the phrase “a second thought,” which is of some use — which partially conveys the idea intended — which [page 435:] advances me a step toward my full purpose — I suffer it to remain, and merely put a dash between it and the phrase “an emendation.” The dash gives the reader a choice between two, or among three or more expressions, one of which may be more forcible than another, but all of which help out the idea. It stands, in general, for these words — “or, to make my meaning more distinct.” This force it has — and this force no other point can have; since all other points have well-understood uses quite different from this. Therefore, the dash cannot be dispensed with. It has its phases — its variation of the force described; but the one principle — that of second thought or emendation — will be found at the bottom of all.


This is a queer little book,* which its author regards as “not only necessary, but urgently called for,” because not only “the mass of the people are ignorant of English Grammar, but because those who profess great knowledge of it, and even those who make the teaching of it their business, will be found, upon examination, to be very far from understanding its principles.”

Whether Mr. P. proceeds upon the safe old plan of Probo meliora, deteriora seguor — whether he is one of “the mass,” and means to include himself among the ignoramuses — or whether he is only a desperate quiz — we shall not take it upon ourselves to say; but the fact is clear that, in a Preface of less than two small duodecimo pages (the leading object of which seems to be an eulogy upon one William Cobbett), he has given us some half dozen distinct instances of bad grammar.

“For these purposes,” says he — that is to say — the purposes of instructing mankind and enlightening “every American youth” without exception — “for these purposes, I have written my lessons in a series of letters. A mode that affords more opportunity for plainness, familiarity, instruction, and entertainment, than any other. A mode [page 436:] that was adopted by Chesterfield, in his celebrated instructions on politeness. A mode that was adopted by Smollett, in many of his novels, which, even at this day, hold a distinguished place in the world of fiction. A mode that was adopted by William Cobbett, not only in his admirable treatise on English Grammar, but in nearly every work that he wrote.” “To Mr. Cobbett,” adds the instructer of every American youth — “to Mr. Cobbett I acknowledge myself indebted for the greater part of the grammatical knowledge which I possess.” Of the fact stated there can be no question. Nobody but Cobbett could have been the grammatical Mentor of Mr. Pue, whose book (which is all Cobbett) speaks plainly upon the point — nothing but the ghost of William Cobbett, looking over the shoulder of Hugh A. Pue, could have inspired the latter gentleman with the bright idea of stringing together four consecutive sentences, in each of which the leading nominative noun is destitute of a verb.

Mr. Pue may attempt to justify his phraseology here, by saying that the several sentences, quoted above, commencing with the words, “A mode,” are merely continuations of the one beginning “For these purposes;” but this is no justification at all. By the use of the period, he has rendered each sentence distinct, and each must be examined as such, in respect to its grammar. We are only taking the liberty of condemning Mr. P. by the words of his own mouth. Turning to page 72, where he treats of punctuation, we read as follows: — “The full point is used at the end of every complete sentence; and a complete sentence is a collection of words making a complete sense, without being dependent upon another collection of words to convey the full meaning intended.” Now, what kind of a meaning can we give to such a sentence as “A mode that was adopted by Chesterfield in his celebrated instructions on politeness,” if we are to have “no dependence upon” the sentences that precede it? But, even in the supposition that these five sentences had been run into one, as they should have been, they would still be ungrammatical. For example — “For these purposes I have written my lessons in a series of letters — a mode that affords more opportunity for plainness, familiarity, instruction, and entertainment [page 437:] than any other — a mode, etc.” This would have been the proper method of punctuation. “A mode” is placed in apposition with “a series of letters.” But it is evident that it is not the “series of letters” which is the “mode.” It is the writing the lessons in a series which is so. Yet, in order that the noun “mode” can be properly placed in apposition with what precedes it, this latter must be either a noun, or a sentence, which, taken collectively, can serve as one. Thus, in any shape, all that we have quoted is bad grammar.

We say “bad grammar,” and say it through sheer obstinacy, because Mr. Pue says we should not. “Why, what is grammar?” asks he indignantly. “Nearly all grammarians tell us that grammar is the writing and speaking of the English language correctly. What then is bad grammar? Why bad grammar must be the bad writing and speaking of the English language correctly!!” We give the two admiration notes and all.

In the first place, if grammar be only the writing and speaking the English language correctly, then the French, or the Dutch, or the Kickapoos are miserable, ungrammatical races of people, and have no hopes of being anything else, unless Mr. Pue proceeds to their assistance: but let us say nothing of this for the present. What we wish to assert is, that the usual definition of grammar as “the writing and speaking correctly,” is an error which should have been long ago exploded. Grammar is the analysis of language, and this analysis will be good or bad, just as the capacity employed upon it be weak or strong — just as the grammarian be a Horne Tooke or a Hugh A. Pue. But perhaps, after all, we are treating this gentleman discourteously. His book may be merely intended as a good joke. By the by, he says in his preface, that “while he informs the student, he shall take particular care to entertain him.” Now, the truth is, we have been exceedingly entertained. In such passages as the following, however, which we find upon the second page of the Introduction, we are really at a loss to determine whether it is the utile or the dulce which prevails. We give the italics of Mr. Pue; without which [[,]] [page 438:] indeed, the singular force and beauty of the paragraph cannot be duly appreciated.

“The proper study of English grammar, so far from being dry, is one of the most rational enjoyments known to us; one that is highly calculated to rouse the dormant energies of the student; it requiring continual mental effort; unceasing exercise of mind. It is, in fact, the spreading of a thought-producing plaster of Paris upon the extensive grounds of intellect! It is the parent of idea, and great causation of reflection; the mighty instigator of insurrection in the interior; and, above all, the unflinching champion of internal improvement!” We know nothing about plaster of Paris; but the analogy which subsists between ipecac and grammar — at least between ipecac and the grammar of Mr. Pue — never, certainly, struck us in so clear a point of view, as it does now.

But, after all, whether Mr. P.’s queer little book shall or shall not meet the views of “Every American Youth,” will depend pretty much upon another question of high moment — whether “Every American Youth” be or be not as great a nincompoop as Mr. Pue.


This misapplication of quotations is clever, and has a capital effect when well done; but Lord Brougham has not exactly that kind of capacity which the thing requires. One of the best hits in this way is made by Tieck, and I have lately seen it appropriated, with interesting complacency, in an English Magazine. The author of the “Journey into the Blue Distance,” is giving an account of some young ladies, not very beautiful, whom he caught in mediis rebus, at their toilet. “They were curling their monstrous heads,” says he, “as Shakspeare says of the waves in a storm.”


One of our truest poets is Thomas Buchanan Read.* His most distinctive features are, first, “tenderness,” or subdued passion, and secondly, fancy. His sin is imitativeness. At present, although evincing high capacity, he is but a copyist [page 439:] of Longfellow — that is to say, but the echo of an echo. Here is a beautiful thought which is not the property of Mr. Read:

And, where the spring-time sun had longest shone,

A violet looked up and found itself alone.

Here again: a Spirit

Slowly through the lake descended,

Till from her hidden form below

The waters took a golden glow,

As if the star which made her forehead bright

Had burst and filled the lake with light.

Lowell has some lines very similar, ending with

As if a star had burst within his brain.

CLXX. — REASONING. [[M-087]]

This reasoning is about as convincing as would be that of a traveller who, going from Maryland to New York without entering Pennsylvania, should advance this feat as an argument against Leibnitz’ Law of Continuity — according to which nothing passes from one state to another without passing through all the intermediate states.


Among his eidola of the den, the tribe, the forum, the theatre, etc., Bacon might well have placed the great eidolon of the parlor (or of the wit, as I have termed it in one of the previous Marginalia) — the idol whose worship blinds man to truth by dazzling him with the apposite. But what title could have been invented for that idol which has propagated, perhaps, more of gross error than all combined? — the one, I mean, which demands from its votaries that they reciprocate cause and effect — reason in a circle — lift themselves from the ground by pulling up their pantaloons — and carry themselves on their own heads, in hand-baskets, from Beersheba to Dan.

All — absolutely all the argumentation which I have seen on the nature of the soul, or of the Diety, seems to me nothing but worship of this unnameable idol. Pour savoir ce [page 440:] qu’est Dien, says Bielfeld, although nobody listens to the solemn truth, il faut être Dieu même — and to reason about the reason is of all things the most unreasonable. At least, he alone is fit to discuss the topic who perceives at a glance the insanity of its discussion.


“If, in any point,” says Lord Bacon, “I have receded from what is commonly received, it hath been for the purpose of proceeding melius and not in aliud” — but the character assumed, in general, by modern “Reform” is, simply, that of Opposition.


“The author of “Miserrimusmight have been W. G. Simms (whose “Martin Faber” is just such a work) — but is* G. M. W. Reynolds, an Englishman, who wrote, also, “Albert de Rosann,” and “Pickwick Abroad” — both excellent things in their way.


Until we analyze a religion or a philosophy in respect of its inducements, independently of its rationality, we shall never be in condition to estimate that religion, or that philosophy, by the mere number of its adherents: — unluckily,

No Indian Prince has to his palace

More followers than a thief to the gallows.


“That evil predominates over good, becomes evident, when we consider that there can be found no aged person who would be willing to re-live the life he has already lived.” — Volney.

The idea here, is not distinctly made out; for unless through the context, we cannot be sure whether the author means merely this: — that every aged person fancies he might, in a different course of life, have been happier than [page 441:] in the one actually lived, and, for this reason, would not be willing to live his life over again, but some other life; — or, whether the sentiment intended is this: — that if, upon the grave’s brink, the choice were offered any aged person between the expected death and the re-living the old life, that person would prefer to die.

The first proposition is, perhaps, true; but the last (which is the one designed) is not only doubtful, in point of mere fact, but is of no effect, even if granted to be true, in sustaining the original proposition — that evil predominates over good.

It is assumed that the aged person will not re-live his life, because he knows that its evil predominated over its good. The source of error lies in the word “knows” — in the assumption that we can ever be, really, in possession of the whole knowledge to which allusion is cloudily made. But there is a seeming — a fictitious knowledge; and this verily seeming knowledge it is, of what the life has been, which incapacitates the aged person from deciding the question upon its merits. He blindly deduces a notion of the happiness of the original real life — a notion of its preponderating evil or good — from a consideration of the secondary or supposititious one. In his estimate he merely strikes a balance between events, and leaves quite out of the account that elastic Hope which is the Harbinger and the Eos of all. Man’s real life is happy, chiefly because he is ever expecting that it soon will be so. But, in regarding the supposititious life, we paint to ourselves chill certainties for warm expectations, and grievances quadrupled in being foreseen. But because we cannot avoid doing this — strain our imaginative faculties as we will — because it is so very difficult — so nearly impossible a task, to fancy the known unknown — the done unaccomplished — and because (through our inability to fancy all this) we prefer death to a secondary life — does it, in any manner, follow that the evil of the properly-considered real existence does predominate over the good?

In order that a just estimate be made by Mr. Volney’s “aged person,” and from this estimate a judicious choice: — in order, again, that from this estimate and choice, we deduce any clear comparison of good with evil in human existence, it will be necessary that we obtain the opinion, or “choice,” [page 442:] upon this point, from an aged person who shall be in condition to appreciate, with precision, the hopes he is naturally led to leave out of question, but which reason tells us he would as strongly experience as ever, in the absolute reliving of the life. On the other hand, too, he must be in condition to dismiss from the estimate the fears which he actually feels, and which show him bodily the ills that are to happen, but which fears, again, reason assures us he would not, in the absolute secondary life, encounter. Now what mortal was ever in condition to make these allowances? — to perform impossibilities in giving these considerations their due weight? What mortal, then, was ever in condition to make a well-grounded choice? How, from an ill-grounded one, are we to make deductions which shall guide us aright? How out of error shall we fabricate truth?


A pumpkin has more angles than C——, and is altogether a cleverer thing. He is remarkable at one point only — at that of being remarkable for nothing.


For all the rhetorician’s rules

Teach nothing but to name the tools. — HUDIBRAS.

What these oft-quoted lines go to show is, that a falsity in verse will travel faster and endure longer than a falsity in prose. The man who would sneer or stare at a silly proposition nakedly put, will admit that “there is a good deal in that” when “that” is the point of an epigram shot into the ear. The rhetorician’s rules — if they are rules — teach him not only to name his tools, but to use his tools, the capacity of his tools — their extent — their limit; and from an examination of the nature of the tools — (an examination forced on him by their constant presence) — force him, also, into scrutiny and comprehension of the material on which the tools are employed, and thus, finally, suggest and give birth to new material for new tools. [page 443:]


“Rhododaphne” (who wrote it?*) is brim-full of music: — e. g.

By living streams, in sylvan shades,

Where wind and wave symphonious make

Rich melody, the youths and maids

No more with choral music wake

Lone Echo from her tangled brake.

CLXXIX. — RHYME. [[M-147]]

The effect derivable from well-managed rhyme is very imperfectly understood. Conventionally “rhyme” implies merely close similarity of sound at the ends of verse, and it is really curious to observe how long mankind have been content with their limitation of the idea. What, in rhyme, first and principally pleases, may be referred to the human sense or appreciation of equality — the common element, as might be easily shown, of all the gratification we derive from music in its most extended sense — very especially in its modifications of metre and rhythm. We see, for example, a crystal, and are immediately interested by the equality between the sides and angles of one of its faces — but on bringing to view a second face, in all respects similar to the first, our pleasure seems to be squared — on bringing to view a third, it appears to be cubed, and so on: I have no doubt, indeed, that the delight experienced, if measurable, would be found to have exact mathematical relations, such, or nearly such, as I suggest — that is to say, as far as a certain point, beyond which there would be a decrease, in similar relations. Now here, as the ultimate result of analysis, we reach the sense of mere equality, or rather the human delight in this sense; and it was an instinct, rather than a clear comprehension of this delight as a principle, which, in the first instance, led the poet to attempt an increase of the effect arising from the mere similarity (that is to say equality) between two sounds — led him, I say, to attempt [page 444:] increasing this effect by making a secondary equalization, in placing the rhymes at equal distances — that is, at the ends of lines of equal length. In this manner, rhyme and the termination of the line grew connected in men’s thoughts — grew into a conventionalism — the principle being lost sight of altogether. And it was simply because Pindaric verses had, before this epoch, existed — i.e. verses of unequal length — that rhymes were subsequently found at unequal distances. It was for this reason solely, I say — for none more profound — rhyme had come to be regarded as of right appertaining to the end of verse — and here we complain that the matter has finally rested. But it is clear that there was much more to be considered. So far, the sense of equality alone, entered the effect; or, if this equality was slightly varied, it was varied only through an accident — the accident of the existence of Pindaric metres. It will be seen that the rhymes were always anticipated. The eye, catching the end of a verse, whether long or short, expected, for the ear, a rhyme. The great element of unexpectedness was not dreamed of — that is to say, of novelty — of originality. “But,” says Lord Bacon, (how justly!) “there is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.” Take away this element of strangeness — of unexpectedness — of novelty — of originality — call it what we will — and all that is ethereal in loveliness is lost at once. We lose — we miss the unknown — the vague — the uncomprehended, because offered before we have time to examine and comprehend. We lose, in short, all that assimilates the beauty of earth with what we dream of the beauty of Heaven. Perfection of rhyme is attainable only in the combination of the two elements, Equality and Unexpectedness. But as evil cannot exist without good, so unexpectedness must arise from expectedness. We do not contend for mere arbitrariness of rhyme. In the first place, we must have equi-distant or regularly recurring rhymes, to form the basis, expectedness, out of which arises the element, unexpectedness, by the introduction of rhymes, not arbitrarily, but with an eye to the greatest amount of unexpectedness. We should not introduce them, for example, at such points [page 445:] that the entire line is a multiple of the syllables preceding the points. When, for instance, I write —

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain,

I produce more, to be sure, but not remarkably more than the ordinary effect of rhymes regularly recurring at the ends of lines; for the number of syllables in the whole verse is merely a multiple of the number of syllables preceding the rhyme introduced at the middle, and there is still left, therefore, a certain degree of expectedness. What there is of the element, unexpectedness, is addressed, in fact, to the eye only — for the ear divides the verse into two ordinary lines, thus:

And the silken, sad, uncertain

Rustling of each purple curtain.

I obtain, however, the whole effect of unexpectedness, when I write —

Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before.

N. B. It is very commonly supposed that rhyme, as it now ordinarily exists, is of modern invention — but see the “Clouds” of Aristophanes. Hebrew verse, however, did not include it — the terminations of the lines, where most distinct, never showing any thing of the kind.


“This is right,” says Epicurus, “precisely because the people are displeased with it.”

II y a à parier,” says Chamfort — one of the Kankars of Mirabeau — “que toute idée publique — toute convention reçue — est une sottise; car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre.”

“Si proficere cupis,” says the great African bishop, “primo id verum puta quod sana mens omnium hominum attestatur.”


“Who shall decide where Doctors disagree?”

To me, it appears that, in all ages, the most preposterous falsities have been received as truths by at least the mens omnium hominum. As for the sana mens — how are we ever to determine what that is? [page 446:]

CLXXXI. — ST. AUSTIN de libris Manichæis. [[M-059]]

In reading some books we occupy ourselves chiefly with the thoughts of the author; in perusing others, exclusively with our own. And this is one of the “others” — a suggestive book. But there are two classes of suggestive books — the positively and the negatively suggestive. The former suggest by what they say; the latter by what they might and should have said. It makes little difference, after all. In either case the true book-purpose is answered.

CLXXII. — SALLUST. [[M-060]]

Sallust, too. He had much the same free-and-easy idea, and Metternich himself could not have quarrelled with his “Impune quæ libet facere, id est esse regem.”


The German “Schwarmerei” — not exactly “humbug,” but “sky-rocketing” — seems to be the only term by which we can conveniently designate that peculiar style of criticism which has lately come into fashion, through the influence of certain members of the Fabian family — people who live (upon beans) about Boston.


In the sweet “Lily of Nithsdale,” we read —

“She’s gane to dwell in heaven, my lassie —

She’s gane to dwell in heaven; —

Ye’re ow’re pure, quo’ the voice of God,

For dwelling out o’ heaven.”

The owre and the o’ of the two last verses should be Anglicized. The Deity, at least, should be supposed to speak so as to be understood — although I am aware that a folio has been written to demonstrate broad Scotch as the language of Adam and Eve in Paradise. [page 447:]


They have ascertained, in China, that the abdomen is the seat of the soul; and the acute Greeks considered it a waste of words to employ more than a single term, φρενες, for the expression both of the mind and of the diaphragm.

CLXXXVI. — SIMMS. [[M-074]]

It was a pile of the oyster, which yielded the precious pearls of the South, and the artist had judiciously painted some with their lips parted, and showing within the large precious fruit in the attainment of which Spanish cupidity had already proved itself capable of every peril, as well as every crime. At once true and poetical, no comment could have been more severe, etc. Mr. Simms’ Damsel of Darien.*

Body of Bacchus! — only think of poetical beauty in the countenance of a gaping oyster!

And how natural, in an age so fanciful, to believe that the stars and starry groups beheld in the new world for the first time by the native of the old were especially assigned for its government and protection.

Now, if by the Old World be meant the East, and by the New World the West, I am at a loss to know what are the stars seen in the one which cannot be equally seen in the other. Mr. Simms has abundant faults — or had; — among which inaccurate English, a proneness to revolting images, and pet phrases, are the most noticeable. Nevertheless, leaving out of question Brockden Brown and Hawthorne (who are each a genus), he is immeasurably the best writer of fiction in America. He has more vigour, more imagination, more movement and more general capacity than all our novelists (save Cooper), combined.


A ballad entitled “Indian Serenade,” and put into the mouth of the hero, Vasco Nunez, is, perhaps, the most really meritorious portion of Mr. Simms’ “Damsel of Darien.” This stanza is full of music: [page 448:]

And their wild and mellow voices

Still to hear along the deep

Everv brooding star rejoices,

While the billow, on its pillow,

Lulled to silence seems to sleep.

And also this:

’Tis the wail for life they waken

By Samana’s yielding shore —

With the tempest it is shaken;

The wild ocean is in motion,

And the song is heard no more.


“He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland in his “Peregrinus Proteus,” “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man.” The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature, we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out.


The concord of sound-and-sense principle was never better exemplified than in these lines*: —

Ast amans charæ thalamum puellæ

Deserit flens, et tibi verba dicit

Aspera amplexu teneræ cupito a —

— vulsus amicæ.


The “Doctor” has excited great attention in America as well as in England, and has given rise to every variety of conjecture and opinion, not only concerning the author’s individuality, but in relation to the meaning, purpose, and character of the book itself. It is now said to be the work of one author — now of two, three, four, five — as far even as nine or ten. These writers are sometimes thought to have composed the Doctor conjointly — sometimes to have written each a portion. These individual portions have even been [page 449:] pointed out by the supremely acute, and the names of their respective fathers assigned. Supposed discrepancies of taste and manner, together with the prodigal introduction of mottoes, and other scraps of erudition (apparently beyond the compass of a single individual’s reading) have given rise to this idea of a multiplicity of writers — among whom are mentioned in turn all the most witty, all the most eccentric, and especially all the most learned of Great Britain. Again — in regard to the nature of the book. It has been called an imitation of Sterne — an august and most profound exemplification, under the garb of eccentricity, of some all — important moral law — a true, under guise of a fictitious, biography — a simple jeu d‘esprit — a mad farrago by a Bedlamite, and a great multiplicity of other equally fine names and hard. Undoubtedly, the best method of arriving at a decision in relation to a work of this nature, is to read it through with attention, and thus see what can be made of it. We have done so, and can make nothing of it, and are therefore clearly of opinion that the Doctor is precisely — nothing. We mean to say that it is nothing better than a hoax.

That any serious truth is meant to be inculcated by a tissue of bizarre and disjointed rhapsodies, whose general meaning no person can fathom, is a notion altogether untenable, unless we suppose the author a mad man. But there are none of the proper evidences of madness in the book — while of mere banter there are instances innumerable. One half, at least, of the entire publication is taken up with palpable quizzes, seasonings in a circle, sentences, like the nonsense verses of Du Bartas, evidently framed to mean nothing, while wearing an air of profound thought, and grotesque speculations in regard to the probable excitement to be created by the book.

It appears to have been written with a sole view (or nearly with the sole view) of exciting inquiry and comment. That this object should be fully accomplished cannot be thought very wonderful, when we consider the excessive trouble taken to accomplish it, by vivid and powerful intellect. That the Doctor is the offspring of such intellect [page 450:] is proved sufficiently by many passages of the book, where the writer appears to have been led off from his main design. That it is written by more than one man should not be deduced either from the apparent immensity of its erudition, or from discrepancies of style. That man is a desperate mannerist who cannot vary his style ad infinitum; and although the book may have been written by a number of learned bibliophagi, still there is, we think, nothing to be found in the book itself at variance with the possibility of its being written by any one individual of even mediocre reading. Erudition is only certainly known in its total results. The mere grouping together of mottoes from the greatest multiplicity of the rarest works, or even the apparently natural inweaving into any composition, of the sentiments and manner of these works, are attainments within the reach of any well-informed, ingenious and industrious man having access to the great libraries of London. Moreover, while a single individual possessing these requisites and opportunities, might, through a rabid desire of creating a sensation, have written, with some trouble, the Doctor, it is by no means easy to imagine that a plurality of sensible persons could be found willing to embark in such absurdity from a similar, or indeed from any imaginable inducement.

The present edition of the Harpers consists of two volumes in one. Volume one commences with a Prelude of Mottoes occupying two pages. Then follows a Postscript — then a Table of Contents to the first volume, occupying eighteen pages. Volume two has a similar Prelude of Mottoes and Table of Contents. The whole is subdivided into Chapters Ante-Initial, Initial, and Post-Initial, with Inter-Chapters. The pages have now and then a typographical queerity — a monogram, a scrap of grotesque music, old English, etc. Some characters of this latter kind are printed with coloured ink in the British edition, which is gotten up with great care. All these oddities are in the manner of Sterne, and some of them are exceedingly well conceived. The work professes to be a Life of one Doctor Daniel Dove and his horse Nobs — but we should put no very great faith in [page 451:] this biography. On the back of the book is a monogram — which appears again once or twice in the text, and whose solution is a fertile source of trouble with all readers. This monogram is a triangular pyramid; and as, in geometry, the solidity of every polyedral body may be computed by dividing the body into pyramids, the pyramid is thus considered as the base or essence of every polyedron. The author then, after his own fashion, may mean to imply that his book is the basis of all solidity or wisdom — or perhaps, since the polyedron is not only a solid, but a solid terminated by plane faces, that the Doctor is the very essence of all that spurious wisdom which will terminate in just nothing at all — in a hoax, and a consequent multiplicity of blank visages. The wit and humour of the Doctor have seldom been equalled. We cannot think Southey wrote it, but have no idea who did.


Here is a book of “amusing travels,” which is full enough of statistics to have been the joint composition of Messieurs Busching, Hassel, Cannabitch, Gaspari, Gutsmuth and company.


As a descriptive poet, Mr. Street is to be highly commended. He not only describes with force and fidelity — giving us a clear conception of the thing described — but never describes what, to the poet, should be nondescript. He appears, however, not at any time to have been aware that mere description is not poetry at all. We demand creation — ποιησις. About Mr. Street there seems to be no spirit. He is all matter — substance — what the chemists would call “simple substance” — and exceedingly simple it is. [page 452:]


I have just finished the “Mysteries of Paris” — a work of unquestionable power — a museum of novel and ingenious incident — a paradox of childish folly and consummate skill. It has this point m common with all the “convulsive” fictions — that the incidents are consequential from the premises, while the premises themselves are laughably incredible. Admitting, for instance, the possibility of such a man as Rodolphe, and of such a state of society as would tolerate his perpetual interference, we have no difficulty in agreeing to admit the possibility of his accomplishing all that is accomplished. Another point which distinguishes the Sue school, is the total want of the ars celare artem. In effect the writer is always saying to the reader, “Now — in one moment — you shall see what you shall see. I am about to produce on you a remarkable impression. Prepare to have your imagination, or your pity, greatly excited.” The wires are not only not concealed, but displayed as things to be admired, equally with the puppets they set in motion. The result is, that in perusing for example, a pathetic chapter in “The Mysteries of Paris” we say to ourselves, without shedding a tear — “Now, here is something which will be sure to move every reader to tears.” The philosophical motives attributed to Sue are absurd in the extreme. His first, and in fact his sole object, is to make an exciting, and therefore saleable book. The cant (implied or direct) about the amelioration of society, etc., is but a very usual trick among authors, whereby they hope to add such a tone of dignity or utilitarianism to their pages as shall gild the pill of their licentiousness. The ruse is even more generally employed by way of engrafting a meaning upon the otherwise unintelligible. In the latter case, however, this ruse is an afterthought, manifested in the shape of a moral, either appended (as in Æsop) or dovetailed into the body of the work, piece by piece, with great care, but never without leaving evidence of its after-insertion.

The translation (by C. H. Town) is very imperfect, and, by a too literal rendering of idioms, contrives to destroy the [page 453:] whole tone of the original. Or, perhaps, I should say a too literal rendering of local peculiarities of phrase. There is one point (never yet, I believe, noticed) which, obviously, should be considered in translation. We should so render the original that the version should impress the people for whom it is intended, just as the original impresses the people for whom it (the original) is intended. Now, if we rigorously translate mere local idiosyncrasies of phrase (to say nothing of idioms) we inevitably distort the author’s designed impression. We are sure to produce a whimsical, at least, if not always a ludicrous, effect — for novelties, in a case of this kind, are incongruities — oddities. A distinction, of course, should be observed between those peculiarities of phrase which appertain to the nation and those which belong to the author himself — for these latter will have a similar effect upon all nations, and should be literally translated. It is merely the general inattention to the principle here proposed, which has given rise to so much international depreciation, if not positive contempt, as regards literature. The English reviews, for example, have abundant allusions to what they call the “frivolousness” of French letters — an idea chiefly derived from the impression made by the French manner derived merely — the manner, again, having in it nothing essentially frivolous, but affecting all foreigners as such (the English especially) through that oddity of which I have already assigned the origin. The French return the compliment, complaining of the British gaucherie in style. The phraseology of every nation has a taint of drollery about it in the ears of every other nation speaking a different tongue. Now, to convey the true spirit of an author, this taint should be corrected in translation. We should pride ourselves less upon literality and more upon dexterity at paraphrase. Is it not clear that, by such dexterity, a translation may be made to convey to a foreigner a juster conception of an original than could the original itself?

The distinction I have made between mere idioms (which, of course, should never be literally rendered) and “local idiosyncrasies of phrase,” may be exemplified by a passage at page 291 of Mr. Town’s translation: [page 454:]

“Never mind! Go in there! You will take the cloak of Calebasse. You will wrap yourself in it,” etc., etc.

These are the words of a lover to his mistress, and are meant kindly, although imperatively. They embody a local pa culiarity — a French peculiarity of phrase, and (to French ears) convey nothing dictatorial. To our own, nevertheless, they sound like the command of a military officer to his subordinate, and thus produce an effect quite different from that intended. The translation, in such case, should be a bold paraphrase. For example: — “I must insist upon your wrapping yourself in the cloak of Calebasse.”

Mr. Town’s version of “The Mysteries of Paris,” however, is not objectionable on the score of excessive literality alone, but abounds in misapprehensions of the author’s meaning. One of the strangest errors occurs at page 368, where we read:

“From a wicked, brutal savage and riotous rascal, he has made me a kind of honest man by saying only two words to me; but these words, ‘voyez vous,’ were like magic.”

Here “voyez vous” are made to be the two magical words spoken; but the translation should run — ”these words, do you see? were like magic.” The actual words described as producing the magical effect are “heart” and “honour.”

Of similar character is a curious mistake at page 245.

“He is a gueux fini and an attack will not save him,” added Nicholas. “A — yes,” said the widow.

Many readers of Mr. Town’s translation have no doubt been puzzled to perceive the force or relevancy of the widow’s “A — yes” in this case. I have not the original before me, but take it for granted that it runs thus, or nearly so: — “Il est un guenx fini et un assaut ne l’intimidera pas.” “Un — oui!dit la Peuve.

It must be observed that, in vivacious French colloquy, the oui seldom implies assent to the letter, but generally to the spirit, of a proposition. Thus a Frenchman usually says “yes” where an Englishman would say “no.” The [page 455:] latter’s reply, for example, to the sentence “An attack will not intimidate him,” would be “No” — that is to say, “I grant you that it would not.” The Frenchman, however, answers “Yes” — meaning, “I agree with what you say — it would not.” Both replies, of  course, reaching the same point, although by opposite routes. With this understanding, it will be seen that the true version of the widow’s “Un — oui!” should be, “One attack, I grant you, might not,” and that this is the version becomes apparent when we read the words immediately following — “but every day — every day it is hell!”

An instance of another class of even more reprehensible blunders, is to be found on page 297, where Bras-Rouge is made to say to a police officer — “No matter; it is not of that I complain; every trade has its disagreements.” Here, no doubt, the French is désagr´emens — inconveniences — disadvantages — unpleasantnesses. Désagrémens conveys disagreements not even so nearly as, in Latin, religio implies religion.

I was not a little surprised, in turning over these pages, to come upon the admirable, thrice admirable story called “Gringalet et Coupe en Deux,” which is related by Pique-Vinaigre to his companions in La Force. Rarely have I read any thing of which the exquisite skill so delighted me. For my soul I could not suggest a fault in it — except, perhaps, that the intention of telling a very pathetic story is a little too transparent.

But I say that I was surprised in coming upon this story — and I was so, because one of its points has been suggested to M. Sue by a tale of my own. Coupe en Deux has an ape remarkable for its size, strength, ferocity, and propensity to imitation. Wishing to commit a murder so cunningly that discovery would be impossible, the master of this animal teaches it to imitate the functions of a barber, and incites it to cut the throat of a child, under the idea that, when the murder is discovered, it will be considered the uninstigated deed of the ape.

On first seeing this, I felt apprehensive that some of my friends would accuse me of plagiarising from it my [page 456:] “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But I soon called to mind that this latter was first published in “Graham’s Magazine” for April, 1841. Some years ago, “The Paris Charivari” copied my story with complimentary comments; objecting, however, to the Rue Morgue on the ground that no such street (to the Charivari’s knowledge) existed in Paris. I do not wish, of course, to look upon M. Sue’s adaptation of my property in any other light than that of a compliment. The similarity may have been entirely accidental.


The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article, entitled “Mesmeric Revelation,” to be absolutely true, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity — a thing which, in that particular instance, I never dreamed of not doubting myself. The story is a pure fiction from beginning to end.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 430:]

*  I use the prosodial word “anapæst” merely because here I have no space to show what the reviewer will admit I have distinctly shown in the essay referred to — viz.: that the additional syllable introduced, does not make the foot an anapæst, or the equivalent of an anapæst, and that, if it did, it would spoil the line. On this topic, and on all topics connected with verse, there is not a prosody in existence which is not a mere jumble of the grossest error.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 435:]

*  “A Grammar of the English Language, in a series of Letters, addressed to every American Youth.” By Hugh A. Pue. Philadelphia: Published by the Author.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 438:]

*  Born in Pennsylvania in 1822. Author of various poems and ballads, and one of the popular painters of America. [[— Ed.]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 440:]

*  This is incorrect. “Miserrimus” was written by F. M. Reynolds, who died at Fontainbleau in 1850. — Ed.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 443:]

*  Thomas Love Peacock, author of “Palmyra, and other Poems,” “Headlong Hall,” and other clever novels. — Ed.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 447:]

*  Published at Philadelphia, 1839. Wm. Gilmore SImms, LL. D. (born 1806), is one of the most prolific and popular authors of America[[.]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 448:]

*  By M. Anton. Flaminius, b. 1498-d. 1550.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 451:]

*  Alfred B. Street, American author, wrote “The Burning of Schenectady, and other Poems,” 1842; “Drawings and Tintings,” 1844; “Fugitive Poems,” 1846, etc. [[— Ed.]]






[S:0 - JHI, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Marginalia (Items 140-194) (J. H. Ingram, 1875)