Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [part XV],” Southern Literary Messenger, vol. XV, no. 6, June 1849, pp. 336-338


[page 336:]



Pure Diabolism is but Absolute Insanity. Lucifer was merely unfortunate in having been created without brains.



When a man of genius speaks of “the difficult” he means, simply, “the impossible.”



We, of the nineteenth century, need some worker of miracles for our regeneration; but so degraded have we become that the only prophet, or preacher, who could render us much service, would be the St. Francis who converted the beasts.



The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.



Samuel Butler, of Hudibrastic memory, must have had a prophetic eye to the American Congress when he defined a rabble as — “A congregation or assembly of the States-General — every one being of a several judgment concerning whatever business be under consideration”. . . . “They meet only to quarrel,” he adds, “and then return home full of satisfaction and narrative.”



The Romans worshipped their standards; and the Roman standard happened to be an eagle. Our standard is only one-tenth of an Eagle — a Dollar — but we make all even by adoring it with ten-fold devotion.



“He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland in his “Peregrinus Proteus,” “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man.” The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature, we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out.



It is only the philosophical lynxeye that, through the indignity-mist of Man's life, can still discern the dignity of Man.



It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.



In drawing a line of distinction between a people and a mob, we shall find that a people aroused to action are a mob; and that a mob, trying to think, subside into a people. [column 2:]



Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least the perfection of “respectability” in good earnest. On the other hand, accuse an honorable man, too pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him with a perverse ambition to show you that you are not altogether in the wrong.



With how unaccountable an obstinacy even our best writers persist in talking about “moral courage — ” as if there could be any courage that was not moral. The adjective is improperly applied to the subject instead of the object. The energy which overcomes fear — whether fear of evil threatening the person or threatening the impersonal circumstances amid which we exist — is, of course, simply a mental energy — is, of course, simply “moral.” But, in speaking of “moral courage” we imply the existence of physical. Quite as reasonable an expression would be that of “bodily thought” or of “muscular imagination.”



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.



I have now before me a book in which the most noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which “Monarch” and “King” are printed with a capital M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been lately presented at Court. He will employ a small g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God.



“A little learning,” in the sense intended by the poet, is, beyond all question, “a dangerous thing:” — but, in regard to that learning which we call “knowledge of the world,” it is only a little that is not dangerous. To be thoroughly conversant with Man's heart, is to take our final lesson in the iron-clasped volume of Despair.



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.



The phrase of which our poets, and more especially our orators, are so fond — the phrase “music of the spheres” — has arisen simply from a misconception of the Platonic word μουσικη — which, with the Athenians, included not merely the harmonies of tune and time, but proportion generally. In recommending the study of “music” as “the best education for the soul,” Plato referred [page 337:] to the cultivation of the Taste, in contradistinction from that of the Pure Reason. By the “music of the spheres” is meant the agreements — the adaptations — in a word, the proportions — developed in the astronomical laws. He had no allusion to music in our understanding of the term. The word “mosaic,” which we derive from μουσικη, refers, in like manner, to the proportion, or harmony of color, observed — or which should be observed — in the department of Art so entitled.



A pumpkin has more angles than C—, and is altogether a cleverer thing. He is remarkable at one point only — at that of being remarkable for nothing.



Not long ago, to call a man “a great wizzard,” was to invoke for him fire and faggot; but now, when we wish to run our protégé for President, we just dub him “a little magician.” The fact is, that, on account of the curious modern bouleversement of old opinion, one cannot be too cautious of the grounds on which he lauds a friend or vituperates a foe.



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?



Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term “Art,” I should call it “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.” The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of “Artist.” Denner was no artist. The grapes of Zeuxis were inartistic — unless in a bird's-eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius could conceal his deficiency in point of genius. I have mentioned “the veil of the soul.” Something of the kind appears indispensable in Art. We can, at any time, double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it. The naked Senses sometimes see too little — but then always they see too much.



A clever French writer of “Memoirs” is quite right in saying that “if the Universities had been willing to permit it, the disgusting old debauché of Teos, with his eternal Batyllis, would long ago have been buried in the darkness of oblivion.”



“Philosophy,” says Hegel, “is utterly useless and fruitless, and, for this very reason, is the sublimest of all pursuits, the most deserving attention, and the most worthy of our zeal.” This jargon was suggested, no doubt, by Tertullian's [column 2:]Mortuus est Dei filius; credibile est quia ineptum — et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile.”



I have great faith in fools: — self-confidence my friends will call it: —

Si demain, oubliant d’ éclore,

Le jour manquait, eh bien! demain

Quelque fou trouverait encore

Un flambeau pour le genre humain.

By the way, what with the new electric light and other matters, De Béranger's idea is not so very extravagant.



I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. Thus he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind — that he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong.

In like manner, nothing can be clearer than that a very generous spirit — truly feeling what all merely profess — must inevitably find itself misconceived in every direction — its motives misinterpreted. Just as extremeness of intelligence would be thought fatuity, so excess of chivalry could not fail of being looked upon as meanness in its last degree: — and so on with other virtues. This subject is a painful one indeed. That individuals have so soared above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all biographies of “the good and the great,” while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows.



My friend, ——, can never commence what he fancies a poem, (he is a fanciful man, after all) without first elaborately “invoking the Muses.” Like so many she-dogs of John of Nivelles, however, the more he invokes them, the more they decline obeying the invocation.



The German “Schwarmerei” — not exactly “humbug,” but “sky-rocketing” — seems to be the only term by which we can conveniently designate that peculiar style of criticism which has [page 338:] lately come into fashion, through the influence of certain members of the Fabian family — people who live (upon beans) about Boston.



“This is right,” says Epicurus, “precisely because the people are displeased with it.”

II y a à parier,” says Chamfort — one of the Kankars of Mirabeau — “que toute idée publique — toute convention reçue — est une sottise; car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre.”

“Si proficere cupis,” says the great African bishop, “primo id verum puta quod sana mens omnium hominum attestatur.”


“Who shall decide where Doctors disagree?”

To me, it appears that, in all ages, the most preposterous falsities have been received as truths by at least the mens omnium hominum. As for the sana mens — how are we ever to determine what that is?



There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad humanity must assume the aspect of Hell; but the Imagination of Man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful; but, like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour us — they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.



What can be more soothing, at once to a man's Pride and to his Conscience, than the conviction that, in taking vengeance on his enemies for injustice done him, he has simply to do them justice in return?



Talking of puns: — “Why do they not give us quail for dinner, as usual?” demanded Count Fessis, the other day, of H—, the classicist and sportsman.

“Because at this season,” replied H—, who was dozing, “qualis sopor fessis.” (Quail is so poor, Fessis.)



An infinity of error makes its way into our Philosophy, through Man's habit of considering himself a citizen of a world solely — of an individual planet — instead of at least occasionally contemplating his position as cosmopolite proper — as a denizen of the universe.



The Carlyle-ists should adopt, as a motto, the inscription on the old bell from whose metal was cast the Great Tom, of Oxford: — “In Thomaœ laude resono [column 2:] ‘Bim! Bom!’ sine fraude:” — and “Bim! Bom,” in such case, would be a marvellous “echo of sound to sense.”



Paulus Jovius, living in those benighted times when diamond-pointed styluses were as yet unknown, thought proper, nevertheless, to speak of his goosequill as “aliquando ferreus, aureus aliquando” — intending, of course, a mere figure of speech; and from the class of modern authors who use really nothing to write with but steel and gold, some, no doubt, will let their pens, vice versâ, descend to posterity under the designation of “anserine” — of course, intending always a mere figure of speech.



For convenient reference, an item number has been added to each individual entry. The numbers are assigned across the full run of “Marginalia,” matching those used in the authoritative scholarly edition prepared and annotated by Burton Pollin (1985). The present installment, therefore, begins with item 223.


[S:0 - SLM, 1849] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [part XV] [Text-02]