May 19, 2017   Navigation:  Main Menu   Poe’s Works    Poe Bookshelf    JHI74:  Prev Pages   Next Pages

Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. John H. Ingram), “Literati of New York [Part I],” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, vol. IV, 1875, pp. 477-490


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 477, continued:]

CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN.

MR. CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN has been long known to the public as an author. He commenced his literary career (as is usually the case in America) by writing for the newspapers — for “The New York American” especially, in the editorial conduct of which he became in some manner associated, at a very early age, with Mr. Charles King. His first book, I believe, was a collection (entitled “A Winter in the West”) of letters published in “The American” during a tour made by their author through the “far West.” This work appeared in 1834, went through several editions, was [page 478:] reprinted in London, was very popular, and deserved its popularity. It conveys the natural enthusiasm of a true idealist, in the proper phrenological sense, of one sensitively alive to beauty in every development. Its scenic descriptions are vivid, because fresh, genuine, unforced. There is nothing of the cant of the tourist for the sake not of nature but of tourism. The author writes what he feels and, clearly, because he feels it. The style, as well as that of all Mr. Hoffman’s books, is easy, free from superfluities, and, although abundant in broad phrases, still singularly refined, gentlemanly. This ability to speak bodily without blackguardism, to use the tools of the rabble when necessary without soiling or roughening the hands with their employment, is a rare and unerring test of the natural in contradistinction from the artificial aristocrat.

Mr. H.’s next work was “Wild Scenes in the Forest and Prairie,” very similar to the preceding, but more diversified with anecdote and interspersed with poetry. “Greyslaer” followed, a romance based on the well-known murder of Sharp, the Solicitor-General of Kentucky, by Beauchampe. W. Gilmore Simms (who has far more power, more passion, more movement, more skill than Mr. Hoffman) has treated the subject more effectively in his novel “Beauchampe;” but the fact is that both gentlemen have positively failed, as might have been expected. That both books are interesting is no merit either of Mr. H. or of Mr. S. The real events were more impressive than are the fictitious ones. The facts of this remarkable tragedy, as arranged by actual circumstance, would put to shame the skill of the most consummate artist. Nothing was left to the novelist but the amplification of character, and at this point neither the author of “Greyslaer” nor of “Beauchampe” is especially au fait. The incidents might be better woven into a tragedy.

In the way of poetry Mr. Hoffman has also written a good deal. “The Vigil of Faith and other Poems” is the title of a volume published several years ago. The subject of the leading poem is happy — whether originally conceived by Mr. H. or based on an actual superstition, I cannot say. [page 479:] Two Indian chiefs are rivals in love. The accepted lover is about to be made happy, when his betrothed is murdered by the discarded suitor. The revenge taken is the careful preservation of the life of the assassin, under the idea that the meeting the maiden in another world is the point most desired by both the survivors. The incidents interwoven are picturesque, and there are many quotable passages; the descriptive portions are particularly good; but the author has erred, first, in narrating the story in the first person, and secondly, in putting into the mouth of the narrator language and sentiments above the nature of an Indian. I say that the narration should not have been in the first person, because, although an Indian may and does fully experience a thousand delicate shades of sentiment, (the whole idea of the story is essentially sentimental), still he has, clearly, no capacity for their various expression. Mr. Hoffman’s hero is made to discourse very much after the manner of Rousseau. Nevertheless, “The Vigil of Faith” is, upon the whole, one of our most meritorious poems. The shorter pieces in the collection have been more popular; one or two of the songs particularly so — “Sparkling and Bright,” for example, which is admirably adapted to song purposes, and is full of lyric feelings. It cannot be denied, however, that, in general, the whole tone, air and spirit of Mr. Hoffman’s fugitive compositions are echoes of Moore. At times the very words and figures of the “British Anacreon” are unconsciously adopted. Neither can there be any doubt that this obvious similarity, if not positive imitation, is the source of the commendation bestowed upon our poet by “The Dublin University Magazine,” which declares him “the best song writer in America,” and does him also the honour to intimate its opinion that “he is a better fellow than the whole Yankee crew” of us taken together — after which there is very little to be said.

Whatever may be the merits of Mr. Hoffman as a poet, it may be easily seen that these merits have been put in the worst possible light by the indiscriminate and lavish approbation bestowed on them by Doctor Griswold in his “Poets and Poetry of America.” The compiler can find no blemish [page 480:] in Mr. H., agrees with everything and copies everything said in his praise — worse than all, gives him more space in the book than any two, or perhaps three, of our poets combined. All this is as much an insult to Mr. Hoffman as to the public, and has done the former irreparable injury — how or why, it is of course unnecessary to say. “Heaven save us from our friends!”

Mr. Hoffman was the original editor of “The Knickerbocker Magazine,” and gave it while under his control a tone and character, the weight of which may be best estimated by the consideration that the work thence received an impetus which has sufficed to bear it on alive, although tottering, month after month, through even that dense region of unmitigated and unmitigable fog — that dreary realm of outer darkness, of utter and inconceivable dunderheadism, over which has so long ruled King Log the Second, in the august person of one Lewis Gaylord Clark. Mr. Hoffman subsequently owned and edited “The American Monthly Magazine,” one of the best journals we have ever had. He also for one year conducted “The New York Mirror,” and has always been a very constant contributor to the periodicals of the day.

He is the brother of Ogden Hoffman. Their father, whose family came to New York from Holland before the time of Peter Stuyvesant, was often brought into connection or rivalry with such men as Pinckney, Hamilton and Burr.

The character of no man is more universally esteemed and admired than that of the subject of this memoir. He has a host of friends, and it is quite impossible that he should have an enemy in the world. He is chivalric to a fault, enthusiastic, frank without discourtesy, an ardent admirer of the beautiful, a gentleman of the best school — a gentleman by birth, by education and by instinct. His manners are graceful and winning in the extreme — quiet, affable and dignified, yet cordial and dégagés. He converses much, earnestly, accurately and well. In person he is remarkably handsome. He is about five feet ten in height, somewhat stoutly made. His countenance is a noble one — a full index of the character. The features are somewhat [page 481:] massive but regular. The eyes are blue, or light grey, and full of fire; the mouth finely-formed, although the lips have a slight expression of voluptuousness; the forehead, to my surprise, although high, gives no indication, in the region of the temples, of that ideality (or love of the beautiful) which is the distinguishing trait of his moral nature. The hair curls, and is of a dark brown, interspersed with grey. He wears full whiskers. Is about forty years of age. Unmarried.

 

MARY E. HEWITT.

I AM not aware that Mrs. Hewitt has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent. A collection of them was published, in an exquisitely tasteful form, by Ticknor & Co., of Boston. The leading piece, entitled “Songs of our Land,” although the largest, was by no means the most meritorious. In general, these compositions evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen appreciation both of moral and physical beauty. No one of them, perhaps, can be judiciously commended as a whole; but no one of them is without merit, and there are several which would do credit to any poet in the land. Still, even these latter are particularly rather than generally commendable. They lack unity, totality — ultimate effect, but abound in forcible passages.

Mrs. Hewitt has warm partialities for the sea and all that concerns it. Many of her best poems turn upon sea adventures or have reference to a maritime life. Some portions of her “God bless the Mariner” are naïve and picturesque: e.g. —

“God bless the happy mariner!

A homely garb wears he,

And he goeth with a rolling gait,

Like a ship before the sea.

He hath piped the loud “ay, ay, Sir!”

O’er the voices of the main, [page 420:]

Till his deep tones have the hoarseness

Of the rising hurricane.

But oh, a spirit looketh

From out his clear blue eye,

With a truthful childlike earnestness,

Like an angel from the sky.

A venturous life the sailor leads

Between the sky and sea,

But, when the hour of dread is past,

A merrier who than he?

The tone of some quatrains entitled “Alone,” differs materially from that usual with Mrs. Hewitt. The idea is happy and well managed.

Mrs. Hewitt’s sonnets are upon the whole, her most praiseworthy compositions. One entitled “Hercules and Omphale” is noticeable for the vigor of its rhythm.

“Reclined, enervate, on the couch of ease,

No more he pants for deeds of high emprize;

For Pleasure holds in soft voluptuous ties

Enthralled, great Jove-descended Hercules.

The hand that bound the Erymanthean boar,

Hesperia’s dragon slew with bold intent,

That from his quivering side in triumph rent

The skin the Cleonœan lion wore,

Holds forth the goblet — while the Lydian queen,

Robed like a nymph, her brow enwreathed with vine,

Lifts high the amphora brimmed with rosy wine,

And pours the draught the crownéd cup within.

And thus the soul, abased to sensual sway,

Its worth forsakes — its might foregoes for aye.”

The unusual force of the line italicized, will be observed. This force arises first, from the directness, or colloquialism without vulgarity, of its expression: — (the relative pronoun “which” is very happily omitted between “skin” and “the”) — and, secondly, to the musical repetition of the vowel in “Cleonœ an,” together with the alliterative terminations in “Cleonœan “ and “lion.” The effect, also, is much aided by the sonorous conclusion “wore.” [page 483:]

Another and better instance of fine versification occurs in “Forgotten Heroes.”

And the peasant mother at her door,

To the babe that climbed her knee,

Sang aloud the land’s heroic songs —

Sang of Thermopylæ

Sang of Mycale — of Marathon —

Of proud Platæa’s day —

Till the wakened hills from peak to peak

Echoed the glorious lay.

Oh, god like name! — oh, god like deed!

Song-borne afar on every breeze,

Ye are sounds to thrill like a battle shout,

Leonidas! Miltiades!

The general intention here is a line of four iambuses alternating with a line of three; but, less through rhythmical skill than a musical ear, the poetess has been led into some exceedingly happy variations of the theme. For example; — in place of the ordinary iambus as the first foot of the first, of the second, and of the third line, a bastard iambus has been employed. The fourth line, is well varied by a trochee, instead of an iambus, in the first foot; and the variation expresses forcibly the enthusiasm excited by the topic of the supposed songs, “Thermophylæ”. The fifth line is scanned as the three first. The sixth is the general intention, and consists simply of iambuses. The seventh is like the three first and the fifth. The eighth is like the fourth; and here again the opening trochee is admirably adapted to the movement of the topic. The ninth is the general intention, and is formed of four iambuses. The tenth is an alternating line and yet has four iambuses, instead of the usual three; as has also the final line — and alternating one, too. A fuller volume is in this manner given to the close of the subject; and this volume is fully in keeping with the rising enthusiasm. The last line but one has two bastard iambuses.

Upon the whole, it may be said that the most skilful versifer could not have written lines better suited to the purposes of the poet. The errors of “Alone,” however, and [page 484:] of Mrs. Hewitt’s poems generally, show that we must regard the beauties pointed out above, merely in the light to which I have already alluded — that is to say, as occasional happiness to which the poetess is led by a musical ear.

I should be doing this lady injustice were I not to mention that, at times, she rises into a higher and purer region of poetry than might be supposed, or inferred, from any of the passages which I have hitherto quoted. The conclusion of her “Ocean Tide to the Rivulet” puts me in mind of the rich spirit of Horne’s noble epic, “Orion” —

“Sadly the flowers their faded petals close

Where on thy banks they languidly repose,

Waiting in vain to hear thee onward press;

And pale Narcissus by thy margin side

Hath lingered for thy coming, drooped and died,

Pining for thee amid the loneliness.

Hasten, beloved! — here, ‘neath the o’erhanging rock!

Hark! from the deep, my anxious hope to mock,

They call me back unto my parent main.

Brighter than Thetis thou — and, ah, more fleet!

I hear the rushing of thy fair white feet!

Joy! joy! — my breast receives its own again!”

The personifications here are well managed. The “Here! — ‘neath the o’erhanging rock!” has the high merit of being truthfully, by which I mean naturally, expressed, and imparts exceeding vigor to the whole stanza. The idea of the ebb-tide, conveyed in the second line italicized, is one of the happiest imaginable; and too much praise can scarcely be bestowed on the “rushing” of the “fair white feet.” The passage altogether is full of fancy, earnestness, and the truest poetic strength. Mrs. Hewitt has given many such indications of a fire which, with more earnest endeavor, might be readily fanned into flame.

In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent — sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly. In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable. [page 485:]

 

RICHARD ADAMS LOCKE.

ABOUT twelve years ago, I think, “The New York Sun,” a daily paper, price one penny, was established in the city of New York by Mr. Moses Y. Beach, who engaged Mr. Richard Adams Locke as its editor. In a well-written prospectus, the object of the journal professed to be that of “supplying the public with the news of the day at so cheap a rate as to lie within the means of all.” The consequences of the scheme, in their influence on the whole newspaper business of the country, and through this business on the interests of the country at large, are probably beyond all calculation.

Previous to “The Sun” there had been an unsuccessful attempt at publishing a penny paper in New York, and “The Sun” itself was originally projected and for a short time issued by Messrs. Day & Wisner; its establishment, however, is altogether due to Mr. Beach, who purchased it of its disheartened originators. The first decided movement of the journal, nevertheless, is to be attributed to Mr. Locke; and in so saying I by no means intend any depreciation of Mr. Beach, since in the engagement of Mr. L. he had but given one of the earliest instances of that unusual sagacity for which I am inclined to yield him credit.

At all events, “The Sun” was revolving in a comparatively narrow orbit when, one fine day, there appeared in its editorial columns a prefatory article announcing very remarkable astronomical discoveries made at the Cape of Good Hope by Sir John Herschell. The information was said to have been received by “The Sun” from an early copy of “The Edinburgh Journal of Science,” in which appeared a communication from Sir John himself. This preparatory announcement took very well, (there had been no hoaxes in those days), and was followed by full details of the reputed discoveries, which were now found to have been made chiefly in respect to the moon, and by means of a telescope to which the one lately constructed by the Earl of Rosse is a plaything. As these discoveries were gradually [page 486:] spread before the public, the astonishment of that public grew out of all bounds; but those who questioned the veracity of “The Sun” — the authenticity of the communication to “The Edinburgh Journal of Science” — were really very few indeed; and this I am forced to look upon as a far more wonderful thing than any “man-bat” of them all.

About six months before this occurrence the Harpers had issued an American edition of Sir John Herschell’s “Treatise on Astronomy,” and I had been much interested in what is there said respecting the possibility of future lunar investigations. The theme excited my fancy, and I longed to give free rein to it in depicting my day-dreams about the scenery of the moon — in short, I longed to write a story embodying these dreams. The obvious difficulty, of course, was that of accounting for the narrator’s acquaintance with the satellite; and the equally obvious mode of surmounting the difficulty was the supposition of an extraordinary telescope. I saw at once that the chief interest of such a narrative must depend upon the reader’s yielding his credence in some measure as to details of actual fact. At this stage of my deliberations I spoke of the design to one or two friends — to Mr. John P. Kennedy, the author of “Swallow Barn,” among others — and the result of my conversations with them was that the optical difficulties of constructing such a telescope as I conceived were so rigid and so commonly understood, that it would be in vain to attempt giving due verisimilitude to any fiction having the telescope as a basis. Reluctantly, therefore, and only half convinced, (believing the public, in fact, more readily gullible than did my friends), I gave up the idea of imparting very close verisimilitude to what I should write — that is to say, so close as really to deceive. I fell back upon a style half plausible[[,]] half bantering, and resolved to give what interest I could to an actual passage from the earth to the moon, describing the lunar scenery as if surveyed and personally examined by the narrator. In this view I wrote a story which I called “Hans Phaall,” publishing it about six months afterwards in “The Southern Literary Messenger,” of which I was then editor. [page 487:]

It was three weeks after the issue of “The Messenger” containing “Hans Phaall,” that the first of the “Moon-hoax” editorials made its appearance in “The Sun,” and no sooner had I seen the paper than I understood the jest, which not for a moment could I doubt had been suggested by my own jeu d’esprit. Some of the New York journals (“The Transcript” among others) saw the matter in the same light, and published the “Moon story” side by side with “Hans Phaall,” thinking that the author of the one had been detected in the author of the other. Although the details are, with some exception, very dissimilar, still I maintain that the general features of the two compositions are nearly identical. Both are hoaxes, (although one is in a tone of mere banter, the other of downright earnest;) both hoaxes are on one subject, astronomy; both on the same point of that subject, the moon; both professed to have derived exclusive information from a foreign country, and both attempt to give plausibility by minuteness of scientific detail. Add to all this that nothing of a similar nature had ever been attempted before these two hoaxes, the one of which followed immediately upon the heels of the other.

Having stated the case, however, in this form, I am bound to do Mr. Locke the justice to say that he denies having seen my article prior to the publication of his own; I am bound to add, also, that I believe him.

Immediately on the completion of the “Moon story,” (it was three or four days in getting finished), I wrote an examination of its claims to credit, showing distinctly its fictitious character, but was astonished at finding that I could obtain few listeners, so really eager were all to be deceived, so magical were the charms of a style that served as the vehicle of an exceedingly clumsy invention.

It may afford even now some amusement to see pointed out those particulars of the hoax which should have sufficed to establish its real character. Indeed, however rich the imagination displayed in this fiction, it wanted much of the force which might have been given it by a more scrupulous attention to general analogy and to fact. That the public were misled, even for an instant, merely proves the gross [page 488:] ignorance which (ten or twelve years ago) was so prevalent on astronomical topics.*

. . . . . . . .

The singular blunders to which I have referred being properly understood, we shall have all the better reason for wonder at the prodigious success of the hoax. Not one person in ten discredited it, and (strangest point of all!) the doubters were chiefly those who doubted without being able to say why — the ignorant, those uninformed in astronomy, people who would not believe because the thing was so novel, so entirely “out of the usual way.” A grave professor of mathematics in a Virginian college told me seriously that he had no doubt of the truth of the whole affair! The great effect wrought upon the public mind is referable, first, to the novelty of the idea; secondly, to the fancy-exciting and reason-repressing character of the alleged discoveries; thirdly, to the consummate tact with which the deception was brought forth; fourthly, to the exquisite vraisemblance of the narration. The hoax was circulated to an immense extent, was translated into various languages — was even made the subject of (quizzical) discussion in astronomical societies; drew down upon itself the grave denunciation of Dick, and was, upon the whole, decidedly the greatest hit in the way of sensation — of merely popular sensation — ever made by any similar fiction either in America or in Europe.

Having read the Moon story to an end and found it anticipative of all the main points of my “Hans Phaall,” I suffered the latter to remain unfinished. The chief design in carrying my hero to the moon was to afford him an opportunity of describing the lunar scenery, but I found that he could add very little to the minute and authentic account of Sir John Herschell. The first part of “Hans Phaall,” occupying about eighteen pages of “The Messenger,” embraced merely a journal of the passage between the two orbs and a few words of general observation on the most obvious features of the satellite; the second part will most probably never appear. I did not think it advisable even to bring [page 489:] my voyager back to his parent earth. He remains where I left him, and is still, I believe, “the man in the moon.”

From the epoch of the hoax “The Sun” shone with unmitigated splendor. The start thus given the paper insured it a triumph; it has now a daily circulation of not far from fifty thousand copies, and is, therefore, probably, the most really influential journal of its kind in the world. Its success firmly established “the penny system” throughout the country, and (through “The Sun”) consequently, we are indebted to the genius of Mr. Locke for one of the most important steps ever yet taken in the pathway of human progress.

On dissolving, about a year afterwards, his connection with Mr. Beach, Mr. Locke established a political daily paper, “The New Era,” conducting it with distinguished ability. In this journal he made, very unwisely, an attempt at a second hoax, giving the finale of the adventures of Mungo Park in Africa — the writer pretending to have come into possession by some accident of the lost MSS. of the traveler. No one, however, seemed to be deceived, (Mr. Locke’s columns were a suspected district), and the adventures were never brought to an end. They were richly imaginative.

The next point made by their author was the getting up a book on magnetism as the primum mobile of the universe, in connection with Doctor Sherwood, the practitioner of magnetic remedies. The more immediate purpose of the treatise was the setting forth a new magnetic method of obtaining the longitude. The matter was brought before Congress and received with favourable attention. What definite action was had I know not. A review of the work appeared in “The Army and Navy Chronicle,” and made sad havoc of the whole project. It was enabled to do this, however, by attacking in detail the accuracy of some calculations of no very radical importance. These and others Mr. Locke is now engaged in carefully revising; and my own opinion is that his theory (which he has reached more by dint of imagination than of anything else) will finally be established, although, perhaps, never thoroughly by him.

His prose style is noticeable for its concision, luminousness, [page 490:] completeness — each quality in its proper place. He has that method so generally characteristic of genius proper. Everything he writes is a model in its peculiar way, serving just the purposes intended and nothing to spare. He has written some poetry, which, through certain radical misapprehensions, is not very good.

Like most men of true imagination, Mr. Locke is a seemingly paradoxical compound of coolness and excitability.

He is about five feet seven inches in height, symmetrically formed; there is an air of distinction about his whole person — the air noble of genius. His face is strongly pitted by the small-pox, and, perhaps from the same cause, there is a marked obliquity in the eyes; a certain calm, clear luminousness, however, about these latter, amply compensates for the defect, and the forehead is truly beautiful in its intellectuality. I am acquainted with no person possessing so fine a forehead as Mr. Locke. He is married, and about forty-five years of age, although no one would suppose him to be more than thirty-eight. He is a lineal descendant from the immortal author of the “Essay on the Human Understanding.”

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 488:]

*  The analysis of the astronomical errors to be found in “The Moon Hoax” is given on pp. 88-91 of vol. i. of the present edition. — Ed.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

Ingram omits several paragraphs from the notice on Richard Adams Locke, and replaces Poe’s footnote with his own.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:0 - JHI, 1874] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Preface (J. H. Ingram, 1874)