Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Marginalia (Addenda),” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. III, 1875, pp. 467-479


[page 467:]



[[CCXVIII.]] [[M-238]]

Not only do I think it paradoxical to speak of a man of genius as personally ignoble, but I confidently maintain that the highest genius is but the loftiest moral nobility.

[[CCXIX.]] [[M-242]]

It is laughable to observe how easily any system of philosophy can be proved false; but then is it not mournful to perceive the impossibility of even fancying any particular system to be true?

[[CCXX.]] [[RM-001 Graham’s Magazine, August 1841]]

Of the genius of Miss Landon it is almost unnecessary to speak. Without the elegance of Mrs. Hemans, she had considerable grace; with a fine ear, she was often careless in her rhythm; possessing a fancy exuberant and glowing, she showered her metaphors too indiscriminately around her. But few equalled her — if we may so speak — in the pauionate purity of her verse. Affection breathed through every line she wrote. Perhaps there was a mannerism, certainly an affectation, in her constant reference to love, and blighted love especially; but even this error was made seductive by the never ceasing variety which she contrived to throw around her theme, and the sweetness, richness, and enthusiasm of her song. Her great faults were a want of method, and a careless, rapid habit of composition. From first to last, she was emphatically an “improvisatrice.” She wrote from whim rather than from plan, and consequently was often trite, and always careless. These observations will apply, we think, equally to her prose. Her “Ethell Churchill” may be taken as a specimen, and the best specimen, of her style in romance writing. It would be almost invidious to name any one of her long poems as the finest. In her shorter pieces she is often more successful than in more extended [page 468:] flights; and some of her most carelessly written stanzas glitter most with the dew of Castaly. Without fear of contradiction, we may say that she has left no living female poet to compete with her in fame,* unless Mrs. Norton may be said to be her rival; and even with Mrs. Norton, so different are the two writers, no parallel can be drawn. Let us be contented with placing Hemans, Landon, and Norton together in one glorious trio — the sweetest, brightest, loftiest of the female poets of the present generation.

[[CCXXI.]] [[RM-002 Graham’s Magazine, July 1841 — and not by Poe]]

The style of Bolingbroke is unrivalled. No library is perfect without his works, and they should be studied by the public speaker, or the author, night and day. We boldly aver that there does not exist a writer in the language, the reading of whose works, so far as diction is concerned, would be more beneficial to young men. Bolingbroke’s choice of words is singularly fine. Nothing can be clearer, stronger, or more copious than his language. Terse, nervous, epigrammatic; diffuse in general, but condensed when necessary; at times racy, at times vehement, at times compact as iron; rhetorical, yet easy; elegant, yet convincing; bold, rapid, and declamatory, his writings carry one away like a spoken harangue, without betraying the carelessness of the extemporaneous style. The very absence of method, which, in others, would be faulty, is, in Bolingbroke, from the air of frankness it gives to his cause, and its consistency with his essentially oratorical style, a merit: at least not a defect. In grace he has no equal. The euphony of his sentences is like the liquid flow of a river. No writer in the English tongue so much resembles Cicero — to our mind — as Bolingbroke. Burke has been called his rival here; but Burke wanted the ease, the elegance, the chastened imagery of Tully, and in all of these St. John rivalled the friend of Atticus. Deeply imbued with the Latin literature, Bolingbroke has caught, as it were, the spirit of the Augustan age; and we feel, in perusing his pages, the same chastened delight which we enjoy over no modern, and only over Tully among the ancients. [page 469:]

[[CCXXII.]] [[RM-003 Graham’s Magazine, November 1841]]

The reputation of the elder D’Israeli as scholar and philosopher is at least as well founded as that of any man of his age. He has given to the world a series of peculiar books — books in which the richest variety of recherche detail and anecdote about literary affairs, is made subservient to the most comprehensive survey and analysis of letters themselves, considered in respect to their important spiritual uses. He is the only savant upon record who has busied himself, without pedantry, among the minutiae of classical lore. His works will last as long as the language in which they are written. The “Curiosities of Literature,” the “Literary Character,” the “Miscellanies of Literature,” the “Calamities of Authors,” and all but the present “Amenities of Literature” are, however, but incidental labours arising from a more extensive design — a “History of English Literature” — of which he thus speaks. “It was my intention not to furnish an arid narrative of books and of authors, but, following the steps of the human mind through the wide track of time, to trace from their beginnings the progress and the decline of public opinions, and to illustrate, as the objects presented themselves, the great incidents in our national annals.” in this magnificent project the philosopher was arrested by blindness. The “Amenities of Literature” is a portion and in fact the beginning of the great scheme which can now never be completed.

[[CCXXIII.]] [[RM-004 Broadway Journal, August 16, 1845]]

In all commentating upon Shakspeare, there has been a radical error, never yet mentioned. It is the error of attempting to expound his characters — to account for their actions — to reconcile his inconsistencies — not as if they were the coinage of a human brain, but as if they had been actual existences upon earth. We talk of Hamlet the man, instead of Hamlet the — dramatis persona — of Hamlet that God, in place of Hamlet that Shakspeare created. If Hamlet had really lived, and if the tragedy were an accurate record of his deeds, from this record (with some trouble) we might, it is true, reconcile his inconsistences and settle to our satisfaction his true character. But the task becomes [page 470:] the purest absurdity when we deal only with a phantom. It is not (then) the inconsistencies of the acting man which we have as a subject of discussion — (although we proceed as if it were, and thus — inevitably err), but the whims and vacillations — the conflicting energies and indolences of the poet. It seems to us little less than a miracle, that this obvious point should have been overlooked.

While on this topic, we may as well offer an ill-considered opinion of our own as to the — intention of the poet in the delineation of the Dane. It must have been well known to Shakspeare, that a leading feature in certain more intense classes of intoxication, (from whatever cause), is an almost irresistible impulse to counterfeit a farther degree of excitement than actually exists. Analogy would lead any thoughtful person to suspect the same impulse in madness — where beyond doubt, it is manifest. This, Shakspeare — felt — not thought. He felt it through his marvellous power of — identification with humanity at large — the ultimate source of his magical influence upon mankind. He wrote of Hamlet as if Hamlet he were; and having, in the first instance, imagined his hero excited to partial insanity by the disclosures of the ghost — he (the poet) — felt that it was natural he should be impelled to exaggerate the insanity.

[[CCXXIV.]] [[M-003]]

The Bishop of Durham (Dr. Butler) once asked Dean Tucker whether he did not think that communities went mad en masse, now and then, just as individuals, individually. The thing need not have been questioned. Were not the Abderians seized, all at once, with the Euripides lunacy, during which they ran about the streets declaiming the plays of the poet? And now here is the great tweedle-dee tweedle-dum paroxysm — the uproar about Pusey. If England and America are not lunatic now — at this very moment — then I have never seen such a thing as a March hare.

[[CCXXV.]] [[M-007]]

I make no exception, even in Dante’s favour: — the only thing well said of Purgatory, is that a man may go farther and fare worse. [page 471:]

[[CCXXVI.]] [[M-175]]

The works of Christopher Pease [[Pearse]] Cranch are slightly tinged with the spirit of mixed Puritanism, utilitarianism, and transcendentalism, which seems to form the poetical atmosphere of Massachusetts — but, dismissing this one sin, are among the truest of American poetry. I know nothing finer of its kind (and that kind is a most comprehensive one) than one of his shorter pieces entitled, “My thoughts:”

Many are the thoughts that come to me

In my lonely musing;

And they drift so strange and swift

There’s no time for choosing

Which to follow — for to leave

Any seems a losing.

When they come, they come in flocks,

As, on glancing feather,

Startled birds rise, one by one,

In autumnal weather,

Waking one another up

From the sheltering heather.

Some so merry that I laugh;

Some are grave and serious;

Some so trite, their last approach

Is enough to weary us:

Others flit like midnight ghosts,

Shrouded and mysterious.

There are thoughts that o’er me steal,

Like the day when dawning;

Great thoughts winged with melody,

Common utterance scorning;

Moving in an inward tune

And an inward morning.

Some have dark and drooping wings,

Children all of sorrow;

Some are as gay, as if to day

Could see no cloudy morrow —

And yet, like light and shade, they each

Must from the other borrow.

One by one they come to me

On their destined mission; [page 472:]

One by one I see fade

With no hopeless vision —

For they’ve led me on a step

To their home Elysian.

There is, here, a great deal of natural fancy — I mean to say that the images are such as would naturally arise in the mind of an imaginative and educated man, seeking to describe I “thoughts.” But the main charm of the poem is the nice, and at the same time, bold art of its rhythm. Here is no men negative merit, but much of originality — or, if not precise that, at least much of freshness and spirit. The opening lit barring an error to be presently mentioned, is very skillful — and, to me, the result is not less novel than happy. The general idea is merely a succession of trochees (for the long syllable, or caesura proper, at the end of each odd line, is trochee’s equivalent) but, in lieu of commencement of the opening verse, we have a trochee and pyrrhic (forming the compound foot called, in Latin, Pæon primes, and in Greek, αστρολογος.) Here is a very bold excess of two short syllables — and the result would be highly pleasurable if the reader were prepared for it — if he were prepared, my monotone, to expect variation. As it is, he is at ult in a first attempt at perusal, and it is only on a second, or third trial, that he appreciates the effect. To be sure, he then wonders why he did not at first catch the intention: — but the mischief has been committed. The fact is that the line, which would have been singularly beautiful in the body of the poem, is in its present position, a blemish. Mr. Cranch has violated a vital law of rhythmical art, in not permitting his rhythm to determine itself, instantaneously, by his opening foot. A trochaic rhythm, for example, should invariably commence with a trochee. I speak thus at length on this apparently trivial point, because I have been much interested in the phenomenon of a marked common-place-ness of defect, involving as marked an originality of merit.

[[CCXXVII.]] [[RM-005 Graham’s Magazine, July 1841]]

It is scarcely too much to say that the Temperance Reformation is the most important which the world ever [page 473:] knew. Yet its great feature has never yet been made a subject of comment. We mean that of adding to man’s happiness (the ultimate object of all reform), not by the difficult and equivocal process of multiplying his pleasures, in their external regard, but by the simple and most effectual one of exalting his capacity for enjoyment. The temperate man carries within his own bosom, under all circumstances, the true, the only elements of bliss.

Through the influence of the physical, rather than of the moral suggestions against alcohol, the permanency of the temperance reform will be made good. Convince the world that spirituous liquors are poison to the body, and it will be scarcely necessary to add that they are ruin to the soul.

[[CCXXVIII.]] [[RM-006 Graham’s Magazine, August 1841]]

“The Moneyed Man” by Horace Smith is a good book, and well worth the re-publication. The story is skilfully constructed, and conveys an excellent moral. Horace Smith is one of the authors of the “Rejected Addresses.” He is, perhaps, the most erudite of all the English novelists, and unquestionably one of the best in every respect. His style is peculiarly good.

[[CCXXIX.]] [[RM-007 Broadway Journal, November 29, 1845]]

Alfred Tennyson — a poet, who (in our own humble, but sincere opinion), is the greatest that ever lived. We are perfectly willing to undergo all the censure which so heretical an opinion may draw down upon us.

[[CCXXX.]] [[RM-008 Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845]]

This volume* contains some two or three papers which are worth preserving — which have in them the elements of life — and which will leave a definite and perhaps a permanent impression upon every one who reads them In general, however, it is made up of that species of easy writing which is not the easiest reading. We find here too much of slipshodiness, both in thought and manner, and too little of determined purpose. The tone is not that of a bold genius uttering vigourous filings carelessly and inconsiderately, [page 474:] with contempt or neglect of method or completeness, but rather that of a naturally immethodical and inaccurate intellect, making a certain air of ruggedness and insouciance the means of exalting the commonplace into the semblance of originality and strength. Hunt has written many agreeable papers, but no great ones. His points will bear no steady examination. The view at first taken of him by the public is far nearer the truth, perhaps, than that which seems to have been latterly adopted. His “Feast of the Poets” is possibly his best composition. As a rambling essayist he has too little of the raw material. As a critic he is merely saucy, or lackadaisical, or falsely enthusiastic, or at best pointedly conceited. His judgment is not worth a rush — witness his absurd eulogies on Coleridge’s “Pains of Sleep” quoted in the volume before us. In his “Remarks upon (on) De Basso’s Ode to a Dead Body,” he has said critically some of the very best things it ever occurred to him to say; but if there be need to show the pure imbecility and irrelevancy of the paper as a criticism, let it only be contrasted with what a truly critical spirit would write. The highest literary quality of Hunt is a secondary or tertiary grade of Fancy. His loftiest literary attainment is to entertain. This is precisely the word which suits his case. As for excitement we must not look for it in him. And, unhappily, his books are not of such character that they may be taken up, with pleasure, (as may the “Spectator,”) by a mind exhausted through excitement. In this condition we require repose — which is the antipode of the style of hunt. And since for the ennuye he has insufficient stimulus, it is clear that as an author he is fit for very little, if really for any tiring at all.

[[CCXXXI.]] — [[M-016]]

The author* speaks of music like a man, and not like a fiddler. This is something — and that he has imagination is more. But the philosophy of music is beyond his depth, and of its physics he, unquestionably, has no conception. By the way — of all the so-called scientific musicians, how many may we suppose cognizant of the acoustic facts and [page 475:] mathematical deductions? To be sure, my acquaintance with eminent composers is quite limited — but I have never met one who did not stare and say “yes,” “no,” “hum!” “ha!” “eh?” when I mentioned the mechanism of the Siréne [[Sirène]], or made allusion to the oval vibrations at right angles.

[[CCXXXII.]] [[M-020]]

The serious (minor) compositions of Dickens have been lost in the blaze of his comic reputation.* One of the most forcible things ever written, is a short story of his, called “The Black Veil;” a strangely pathetic and richly imaginative production, replete with the loftiest tragic power.

P.S. — Mr. Dickens’s head must puzzle the phrenologists. The organs of locality are small; and the conclusion of the “Curiosity-Shop” is more truly ideal (in both phrenological senses) than any composition of equal length in the English language.

[[CCXXXIII.]] [[M-022]]

It ranks with “Armstrong on Health” — the “Botanic Garden” — the “Connubia Florum.” Such works should conciliate the Utilitarians. I think I will set about a lyric on the Quadrature of Curves — or the Arithmetic of Infinites. Cotes, however, supplies me a ready-made title, in his “Harmonia Mensurarum,” and there is no reason why I should not be fluent, at least, upon the fluents of fractional expressions.

[[CCXXXIV.]] [[M-023]]

In general, we should not be over-scrupulous about niceties of phrase, when the matter in hand is a dunce to be gibbeted. Speak out! — or the person may not understand you. He is to be hung? Then hang him by all means; but make no bow when you mean no obeisance, and eschew the droll delicacy of the Clown in the Play — “Be so good, sir, as to rise and be put to death.”

This is the only true principle among men. Where the gentler sex is concerned, there seems but one course for [page 476:] the critic — speak if you can commend — be silent, if not; for a woman will never be brought to admit a non-identity between herself and her book, and “a well-bred man” says, justly, that excellent old English moralist, James Puckle, in his ‘Gray Cap for a Green Head,’ “a well-bred man will never give himself the liberty to speak ill of women.”

[[CCXXXV.]] [[M-008]]

When music affects us to tears, seemingly causeless, we weep not, as Gravina supposes, from “excess of pleasure”; but through excess of an impatient, petulant sorrow that, as mere mortals, we are as yet in no condition to banquet upon those supernal ecstasies of which the music affords us merely a suggestive and indefinite glimpse.

[[CCXXXVI.]] [[M-009]]

One of the most deliberate tricks of Voltaire, is where he renders, by

Soyez justes, mortels, et ne craignez qu’un Dieu,

the words of Phlegyas, who cries out, in Hell,

Dicite justitiam, moniti, et non temnere Divos.

He gives the line this twist, by way of showing that the ancients worshipped one God. He is endeavouring to deny that the idea of the Unity of God originated with the Jews.

[[CCXXXVII.]] [[M-010]]

The theorizers on Government, who pretend always to “begin with the beginning,” commence with Man in what they call his natural state — the savage. What right have they to suppose this his natural state? Man’s chief idiosyncrasy being reason, it follows that his savage condition — his condition of action without reason — is his unnatural state. The more he reasons, the nearer he approaches the position to which this chief idiosyncrasy irresistibly impels him; and not until he attains this position with exactitude — not until his reason has exhausted itself for his improvement — not until he has stepped upon the highest pinnacle of civilisation — will his natural state be ultimately reached, or thoroughly determined.

[[CCXXXVIII.]] [[M-011]]

Our literature is infested with a swarm of just such [page 477:] little people as this — creatures who succeed in creating for themselves an absolutely positive reputation, by mere dint of the continuity and perpetuality of their appeals to the public — which is permitted, not for a single instant, to rid itself of these Epizœ, or to get their pretensions out of sight.

We cannot, then, regard the microscopical works of the animalculæ in question, as simple nothings; for they produce, as I say, a positive effect, and no multiplication of zeros will result in unity — but as negative quantities — as less than nothings; since − into − will give +.

[[CCXXXIX.]] [[M-013]]

These gentlemen, in attempting the dash of Carlyle, get only as far as the luminousness of Plutarch, who begins the life of Demetrius Poliorcetes with an account of his death, and informs us that the hero could not have been as tall as his father, for the simple reason that his father, after all, was only his uncle.

[[CCXL.]] [[M-024]]

It* is the half-profound, half-silly, and wholly irrational composition of a very clever, very ignorant, and laughably impudent fellow — “ingeniosus puer, sed insignis nebulo,” as the Jesuits have well described Crébillon.

[[CCXLI.]] [[M-174]]

It is [[really]] difficult to conceive what must have been the morbidity of the German intellect, or taste, when it not only tolerated but truly admired and enthusiastically applauded such an affair as “The Sorrows of Werter.” The German approbation was, clearly, in good faith: — as for our own, or that of the English, it was the quintessence of affectation. Yet we did our best, as in duty bound, to work ourselves up into the fitting mood. The title, by the way, is mistranslated — Lieden does not mean Sorrows but Sufferings.

[[CCXLII.]] [[M-172]]

The Alphadelphia Tocsin! ” — (Phœbus, what a name to fill the sounding trump of future fame!) and “devoted to the interest of the labouring classes!” — by which, I [page 478:] presume, are intended the classes who have to pronounce, every mormng, the great appellation of the paper itself. Such a work should not want editors, and accordingly we are informed that it has eight. What on earth is the meaning of Alphadelphia? Is the “Alphadelphia Tocsin” the tocsin of the city of the double A’s? — if so, the idea is too easily slipped into that of the A double S.

[[CCXLIII.]] [[M-170]]

Gênes dans ce temps achetait tout le ble de l’Europe.”

FOR an hour I have been endeavouring, without success, to make out the meaning of this passage — which I find in a French translation of Lady Morgan’s “Letters on Italy.” I could not conceive how or why all the corn of Europe should have been bought, or what corn, in any shape, had to do with the matter at issue. Procuring the original work, after some trouble, I read that “the Genoese, at this period, bought the scorn of all Europe by,” etc., etc. Now, here the translator is by no means so much in fault as Lady Morgan, who is too prone to commit sin with the verbum insolent. I can see no force, here, in the unusuality of “bought,” as applied to scorn — (although there are cases in which the expression would be very appropriate) — and cannot condemn the Frenchman for supposing the s a superfluity and a misprint.

[[CCXLIV.]] [[RM-009 Broadway Journal, August 30, 1845]]

It is astonishing to see how a Magazine article, like a traveller, spruces up after crossing the sea. We ourselves have had the honour of being pirated without mercy — but as we found our articles improved by the process (at least in the opinion of our countrymen) we said nothing, as a matter of course. We have written paper after paper which attracted no notice at all until it appeared as original in “Bentley’s Miscellany” or the “Paris Charivari.” The “Boston Notion” once abused us very lustily for having written “The House of Usher.” Not long afterwards Bentley published it anonymously, as original with itself, — whereupon “The Notion,” having forgotten that we wrote it, not only lauded it ad nauseam, but copied it in toto. [page 479:]

[[CCXLV.]] [[M-235]]

In looking at the world as it is, we shall find it folly to deny that, to worldly success, a surer path is Villainy than Virtue. What the Scriptures mean by the “leaven of unrighteousness” is that leaven by which men rise.

[[CCXLVI.]] [[RM-010 Broadway Journal, September 6, 1845]]

Bolles’s Phonographic Dictionary has “controvertible” and not “controvertibility” “self-conceited” and not “self-conceitedly” — “worldly-minded” and not “worldly-mindedly.” Are these omissions intentional? We presume not. Sonic of its definitions are inaccurate, if not odd — whether these are adopted from other works, we have not leisure to ascertain. For example; “jealousy” is defined as “suspicion in love“ — but is it not rather the passion aroused by suspicion in love? “Museum” is defined “a collection of learned curiosities” — but neither Tom Thumb, nor the Anaconda are particularly “learned.” A printer is said to be “one who prints books;” then one who merely prints hand bills is no printer at all. A regicide is described as a “murderer of one’s king” — and yet the murderer of anybody’s king is still a regicide.

In a Dictionary, if anywhere, we look for rigorous accuracy of definition. We are not finding fault with Mr. Bolles’ work in especial. He is no worse than his predecessors.

Note. — The foregoing marginal notes include a large number now collected for the first time, together with nearly the whole of those included in the four volume American edition of Poe’s works. The few which have been omitted here will be found elsewhere in this collection, in the longer works in which their author subsequently embodied them. — Ed.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 468:]

*  This was written in 1841. — Ed.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 473:]

*  “The Indicator and the Companion,” by Leigh Hunt.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 474:]

*  H. F. Chorley, author of “Conti,” etc.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 475:]

*  Written in 1844. — Ed.

  “Poem de Ponderibus et Mensuris,” by Quintius R. F. Palæon.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 477:]

*  “The Age of Reason,” by Thomas Paine. — Ed.

  Title of a journal published at Alphadelphia, Michigan.



For item CCXXI, the excerpt is from a review not written by Poe. In a letter to William Landor, July 17, 1841, Poe writes, “You have seen, I believe, the July no: of Mag. Among the critical notices is one on Bolingbroke, the only notice not written by myself.“



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