Text: Edgar Allan Poe to John S. Gallaher and William H. Davis — about September 2, 1836 (LTR-073)


To the Editor of the Compiler:

Dear Sir:

In a late paragraph respecting the “Southern Literary Messenger,” you did injustice to that Magazine — and perhaps your words, if unanswered, may even do it an injury. As any such wrong is far from your thoughts, you will of course, allow the Editor of the Messenger the privilege of reply. The reputation of a young Journal, occupying a conspicuous post in the eye of the public, should be watched, by those who preside over its interests, with a jealous attention, and those interests defended when necessary and when possible. But it is not often possible. Custom debars a Magazine from answering in its own pages (except in rare cases,) contemporary misrepresentations and attacks. Against these it has seldom, therefore, any means of defence — the best of reasons why it should avail itself of the few which, through courtesy, may fall to its lot. I mean this as an apology for troubling you to-day.

Your notice of the Messenger would generally be regarded as complimentary — especially so to myself. I would, however, prefer justice to a compliment, and the good name of the Magazine to any personal consideration. The concluding sentence of your paragraph runs thus: “The criticisms are pithy, and often highly judicious, but the editors must remember that it is almost as injurious to obtain a character for regular cutting and slashing, as for indiscriminate laudation.” The italics are my own. I had supposed you aware of the fact that the Messenger has but one editor — it is not right that others should be saddled with demerits belonging only to myself. But this is not the point to which I especially object. You assume that the Messenger has obtained a character for regular “cutting and slashing;” or if you do not mean to assume this, every one will suppose that you do — which, in effect, is the same. Were the assumption just, I would be silent, and set immediately about amending my editorial course. You are not sufficiently decided, I think, in saying that a career of “regular cutting and slashing is almost as bad as one of indiscriminate laudation.” It is infinitely worse — it is horrible. The laudation may proceed from — philanthropy, if you please; but the “indiscriminate cutting and slashing” only from the vilest passions of our nature. But I wish briefly to examine two points — first, is the charge of indiscriminate “cutting and slashing” just, granting it adduced against the Messenger? — and, second, is such charge adduced at all? Since the commencement of my editorship in December last, 94 books have been reviewed. In 79 of these cases, the commendation has so largely predominated over the few sentences of censure, that every reader would pronounce the notices highly laudatory. In 7 instances, viz: in those of The Hawks of Hawk Hollow, The Old World and the New, Spain Revisited, the Poems of Mrs. Sigourney, of Miss Gould, of Mrs. Ellett, and of Halleck, praise slightly prevails. In 5, viz: in those of Clinton Bradshaw, The Partisan, Elkswatawa, Lafitte, and the Poems of Drake, censure is greatly predominant; while the only reviews decidedly and harshly condemnatory are those of Norman Leslie, Paul Ulric, and the Ups and Downs. — The “Ups and Downs” alone is unexceptionably condemned. Of these facts you may satisfy yourself at any moment by reference. In such case the difficulty you will find, in classing these notices, as I have here done, according to the predominance of censure or commendation, will afford you sufficient evidence that they cannot justly be called “indiscriminate.”

But this charge of indiscriminate “cutting and slashing” has never been adduced — except in 4 instances, while the rigid justice and impartiality of our Journal has been lauded even al nauseam in more than four times four hundred. You should not therefore have assumed that the Messenger had obtained a reputation for this “cutting and slashing” — for the asserting a thing to be famous, is a well known method of rendering it so. The 4 instances to which I allude, are the Newbern Spectator, to which thing I replied in July — the Commercial Advertiser of Colonel Stone, whose Ups and Downs I had occasion (pardon me) to “use up” — the N. Y. Mirror, whose Editor's Norman Leslie did not please me — and the Philadelphia Gazette, which, being conducted by one of the sub-editors of the Knickerbocker, thinks it its duty to abuse all rival Magazines.

I have only to add that the inaccuracy of your expression in the words — “The August No. of the Southern Literary Messenger has been well received by most of the Editorial corps who have noticed it,” is of a mischievous tendency in regard to the Messenger. You have seen, I presume, no notices which have not been seen by myself — and you must be aware that there is not one, so far, which has not spoken, in the highest terms, of the August number. I cannot, however, bring myself to doubt that your remarks, upon the whole, were meant to do the Messenger a service, and that you regard it with the most friendly feelings in the world.

The Editor of the Messenger.





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to J. S. Gallaher and W. H. Davis (LTR073/RCL159)