Text: Jacob Spannuth and Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Letter 07,” Doings of Gotham: Poe's Contributions to The Columbia Spy (1929), pp. 73-77 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 73:]

LETTER VII

New York,

June 25, 1844.

The “Columbian Magazine,” for July, has been issued for several days, and, in many respects, is peculiar. All the articles are from the pen of the editor, Mr. John Inman, who is one of the most industrious men of the day. You will find an amusing paper, called “Talking of Birds,” and an excellent account of Holbein’s “Dance of Death.” Mr. I’s. critical notices are always well done, and in good taste. In the present number of the “Columbian” is a mezzotint portrait of him, by Sadd, from a Daguerreotype by Moraud. As a mezzotint, it is bad — dingy and dirty. As a likeness, it is certainly something — that is to say, the friends of the original might, or might not, recognize it; but it makes Mr. I. too old, and he is altogether a much better-looking person — with a more intellectual head. If there is objection to be had, however, to this picture, there can be no caviling about the one which follows — a portrait of the editor’s daughter, engraved by Ormsby, from a painting by H. Inman. This is an exquisite thing and is followed by a very sweet landscape from a drawing by Bartlett. By the way, Mr. H. I. has gone to England, as you, no doubt, have seen in the papers. His artistical abilities resemble very closely the literary talents of his brother, and in England they will meet with appreciation. Have you seen his “Fanny Ellsler”? It is a full exemplification of his principal merits and defects. His style is just the converse of the Philadelphian Roth-ermels. The former might be designated, briefly, as the round or perfected, the latter as the massed or [page 74:] suggestive. The one leaves nothing to the imagination — the other very much — sometimes nearly all. Mr. I. is elaborate in his finish — Mr. R. attracts by a broad, dashing handling of his lights and shadows. In the “Fanny Ellsler” nothing can be more exquisitely “brought out” from the canvass, by dint of carefully touched graduation of shade, than the whole figure of the danseuse, and all the accessories of the painting — the vases in especial. I cannot think, however, that the false tournure should have been introduced; more particularly as it disfigures, in this instance, rather than embellishes the person. The most striking defect lies in the perspective (aerial and linear) of the floor, which seems to be inclined toward the spectator, so that the chair of the danseuse is in danger of sliding off. A similar error is very noticeable in the “Village School in an Uproar.”

“Graham’s Magazine” has also been out for some time and contains many admirable papers — among which I prefer Lowell’s “New Year’s Eve”; “Noon in the Groves of the Huron,” by Louis Legrand. Noble; and “Valentine’s Eve,” by Mrs. Osgood. The criticisms seem to be from different hands. That on ‘Willis is well-written, and, in general, just; but the object — to praise — is too apparent. There is not a word of censure from beginning to end. This is doing injustice not only to the public, but to Mr. Willis, who is more really injured by puffery than by censure, even if severe. I fully agree with the critic in thinking “Lord Ivon and His Daughter” the best of the long poems,. but it is remarkable that, although he has made numerous specifications, he has not even mentioned the best of all the author’s [page 75:] poems, whether long or short. Will you pardon for copying it here?

UNSEEN SPIRITS

The shadows lay along Broadway —

’Twas near the twilight tide —

And slowly there a lady fair

Was walking in her pride.

Alone walked she; but, viewlessly,

Walked Spirits at her side.

Peace charmed the street beneath her feet,

And Honor charmed the air,

And all astir looked kind on her,

And called her good as fair,

For all God ever gave to her

She kept with chary care.

She kept with care her beauties rare

From lovers warm and true;

For her heart was cold to all but gold,

And the rich came not to woo.

Ah! honored well are charms to sell

If priests the selling do.

Now walking there was one more fair,

A slight girl, lilly-pale,

And she had unseen company

To make the spirit quail —

Twixt Want and Scorn she walked forlorn,

And nothing could avail.

No mercy now can clear her brow

For this world’s peace to pray,

For, as love’s wild prayer dissolved in air,

Her woman’s heart gave way;

And the sin forgiven by Christ in Heaven,

By man is cursed away.

In the review of Mr. Horne’s “New Spirit of the Age,” I am somewhat surprised to find the critic lauding, in especial, the notice of Thomas Ingolsby [page 76:] — a flippant and vain attempt at severity — and one of the three or four papers in the volume not written by Mr. Horne. It is preposterous, also, to hear anything like commendation of that last and greatest of all absurdities, Griswold’s Appendix to D’Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature.” The engravings are excellent — barring always the lace-work. The view of the “Cave in the Rock” is one of the very finest which ever appeared in a Magazine.

I have not yet seen “Godey” for this month — nor the “Knickerbocker” — nor the “Ladies’ Companion,” but will look them over, and, in default of news, give you some account of them in my next.

P.

NOTE ON THE SEVENTH LETTER

This first appeared in the Columbia Spy, July 6, 1844. In republishing we have omitted three paragraphs that immediately precede the last, for they are repeated exactly from the Sixth Letter (In point of natural beauty .... rigmarole) where we have already given them. This is the last of the signed letters and as one reads it, one is not surprised that it ended the series — Poe’s vein, one feels, was thinning out. The small talk about the magazines, the discussions of the plates which accompanied them (including the paper lace work — in valentine style — which embellished Graham’s) is certainly making copy with a vengeance. Poe usually gave special attention to the plates in his notices of new annuals and had a kind of technical interest in excellence of this kind, though he definitely expressed his personal preference for woodcut illustrations. Students of American graphic arts may find Poe’s comments on these painters and engravers of interest. But it is more significant that he had certainly learned of Holbein’s Dance of Death, a macabre performance that must have fascinated and repelled him. The dancing of Fanny Ellsler shocked, but it did not repel her contemporaries — among her most enthusiastic spectators were Emerson and Margaret Fuller.

The criticisms on criticisms in Graham’s enabled Poe to fill space happily by copying out the over sentimental ballad [page 77:] Unseen Spirits. This poem is said by J. G. Wilson to have been Willis’ own favorite composition. It first appeared in the New Mirror July 29, 1843, and Poe included it in his lecture on American Poetry, now printed as The Poetic Principle. Almost all the anthologists give it — nowadays usually as the only specimen of Willis. Personally, I prefer the less conventional Love in a Cottage, an unrivalled thing in the way of “a true word spoken in jest” — true, I mean, so far as Willis’ own sentiments were concerned — and a poem too little remembered for all that its urbane wit and grace appealed strongly to Brander Matthews. Lord Ivon and His Daughter is a poetic dialogue, somewhat Byronic in style.

Richard Barham wrote the Ingoldsby Legends, under the pseudonym of Thomas Ingoldsby; they were great favorites with Alan Quatermain, his creator, Rider Haggard, assures us, but I confess that doughty adventurer seems to me more entertaining than the Jackdaw of Rheims. Yet there is a fecundity of wit, and a grotesquerie made up of legend, superstition, strange puns and strange rhyming in Ingoldsby that I find stick deeply in one’s memory.


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Notes:

None.

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[S:0 - SPM29, 1929] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Doings of Gotham: Poe's Contributions to The Columbia Spy (J. Spannuth and T. O. Mabbott) (Letter 07)