Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Henry Cary”, from Literary America, 1848, manuscript


[page 92:]

Henry Cary.

Dr Griswold introduces Mr Cary to the Appendix of the “Poets and Poetry” as Mr Henry Carey, and gives him credit for the spirited Anacreontic song commencing “Old Wine to Drink.” This, however, was not written by Mr C. He has composed but little verse, if any; although, under the nom de plume of John Waters, he has acquired some note by a series of prose essays in the “New-York American” and the “Knickerbocker.” These essays have merit, unquestionably; but some person, in a paper furnished the “Broadway Journal” before my assumption of its editorship, has gone to the extreme of absurdity in their praise. This critic (probably Mr Briggs) thinks that John Waters “is in some sort a Sam Rogers” — “resembles Lamb in fastidiousness of taste” — “has a finer artistic taste than the author of ‘The Sketch-Book’ ” — that “his sentences are the most perfect in the language; too perfect to be peculiar” — that “it would be a vain task to hunt through them all for a superfluous conjunction” — and that “we need them (the works of John Waters!) as models of style in these days of rhodomontades and Macaulayisms”!

The truth seems to be that Mr Cary is a vivacious, amusing essayist — a fifth or sixth rate one — with a style that, as times go, — in view of such stylists as Mr Briggs, for example — may be termed respectable and no more. What Mr B. wishes us to understand by a style that is “too perfect,” “the most perfect” etc., it is scarcely worth while to inquire, since it is generally supposed that “perfect” admits of no degrees of comparison; but if the critic in question finds it “a vain task to hunt” through all Mr John Waters’ works “for a superfluous conjunction,” there is not a schoolboy in the land who would not prove more successful in hunting at least, if not in criticism, than this gentleman who has so very indifferent an opinion of Macaulay. “It was well filled,” says the essayist, as quoted on the very page containing these encomiums, “and yet the number of performers” etc. Again, just below — “We paid our visit to the incomparable ruins of the castle, and then proceeded to retrace our steps, and, examine our wheels at every post-house, reached,” etc. Here the ands italicized are obviously superfluous”. Again, immediately below, — [page 93:] “After consultation with a mechanic at Heidelberg and finding that” etc. Here the and is pleonastic, because the whole force of the sentence might be thus given — “Finding, after consultation,” etc. Mr Cary, in fact, abounds very especially in superfluities — such as we find here, for example — “He seated himself at a piano that was near the front of the stage” — and, to speak the truth, is continually guilty of all kinds of grammatical improprieties. I repeat that, in point of verbal style, he is decent and no more. His greatest literary misfortune, nevertheless, is the having for friend and defender so warm a critic as Mr Briggs.

Mr Cary, also, is a “gentleman of elegant leisure.” He is wealthy and addicted to letters and virtû. For a long time he was President of the Phœnix Bank of New-York, and the principal part of his life has been devoted to business.



A comment on the first page of the manuscript about Henry Cary appears the following note: “A leaf from The Literati by Poe. (See note of W. M. Griswold to me, 30 Dec. 1893.) C.E.N.” The manuscript was, therefore, given to Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908) by William M. Griswold, the son of Rufus Wilmot Griswold. The front page is numbered in pencil 92, and the back 93.


[S:0 - LTAM, 1848] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc. - Henry Cary