Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. B. R. Pollin), “Marginalia - part 14,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 357-375 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 357:]


Southern Literary Messenger

May 1849 XV, 292-96


By Edgar A. Poe.

[10 items, nos. 213-222]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia 213

If ever mortal(a) “wreaked his thoughts upon expression,”(b) it was Shelley. If ever poet sang — as a bird sings — earnestly — impulsively — with utter abandonment — to himself solely — and for the mere joy of his own song — that poet was the author of “The Sensitive Plant.”(c) Of Art — beyond that which is instinctive with Genius — he either had little or disdained all. He really disdained that Rule which is an emanation from Law, because his own soul was Law in itself.(d) His rhapsodies are but the rough notes — the stenographic memoranda of poems — memoranda which, because they were all-sufficient for his own intelligence, he cared not to be at the trouble of writing out in full for mankind. In all his works we find no conception thoroughly wrought. For this reason he is the most fatiguing of poets. Yet he wearies in saying too little rather than too much. What, in him, seems the diffuseness of one idea, is the conglomerate concision of many: and this species of concision it is, which renders him obscure. With such a man, to imitate was out of the question. It would have served no purpose; for he spoke to his own spirit alone, which would have comprehended no alien tongue. Thus he was profoundly original. His quaintness arose from intuitive perception of that truth to which Bacon alone has given distinct utterance: — “There is no exquisite Beauty which has not some strangeness in its proportions.” But whether obscure, original, or quaint, Shelley had no affectations. He was at all times sincere.(e)

From his ruins, there sprang into existence, affronting the Heavens, [page 358:] a tottering and fantastic pagoda, in which the salient angles, tipped with mad jangling bells, were the idiosyncratic faults of the original — faults which cannot be considered such in view of his purposes, but which are monstrous when we regard his works as addressed to mankind. A “school” arose — if that absurd term must still be employed — a school — a system of rules — upon the basis of the Shelley who had none. Young men innumerable, dazzled with the glare and bewildered by the bizarrerie of the lightning that flickered through the clouds of “Alastor,” had no trouble whatever in heaping up imitative vapors, but, for the lightning, were forced to be content with its spectrum, in which the bizarrerie appeared without the fire.(f) Nor were mature minds unimpressed by the contemplation of a greater and more mature; and thus, gradually, into this school of all Lawlessness, — of obscurity, quaintness and exaggeration — were interwoven the out-of-place didacticism of Wordsworth, and the more anomalous metaphysicianism of Coleridge.(g) Matters were now fast verging to their worst; and at length, in Tennyson poetic inconsistency attained its extreme. But it was precisely this extreme (for the greatest truth and the greatest error are scarcely two points in a circle) which, following the law of all extremes, wrought in him (Tennyson) a natural and inevitable revulsion; leading him first to contemn, and secondly to investigate, his early manner, and finally to winnow, from its magnificent elements, the truest and purest of all poetical styles. But not even yet is the process complete; and for this reason in part, but chiefly on account of the mere fortuitousness of that mental and moral combination which shall unite in one person (if ever it shall) the Shell[e]yan abandon and the Tennysonian poetic sense, with the most profound Art (based both in Instinct and Analysis) and the sternest Will properly to blend and rigorously to control all — chiefly, I say, because such combination of seeming antagonisms will be only a “happy chance” — the world has never yet seen the noblest poem which, possibly, can be composed.(h)


mortal) a. This article is a close adaptation of the conclusion of Poe’s “double” article on Elizabeth Barrett’s Drama of Exile (two paras. with the final one omitted) in the BJ, I, no. 2, 1.20, 1/11/45 (H 12.32 34). Poe had already used the same source for M 201, but only for two sentences accompanying the excerpt. Since this concerns major features of his aesthetic and deities in his poetic Pantheon, it might be useful to indicate the substantive changes from the 1845 text, given first (before the slash) in the following collations: PARAGRAPH I — the inalienable instinct of Genius I which ... Genius; the emanation / an emanation; transcribing / writing out; In his whole life he wrought not thoroughly out a single conception / In all his works ... wrought; For this reason it is that / For this reason ... he; having done / saying; what seems in him / what, in him, seems; this concision / this species of concision; answered no purpose / served etc.; he was therefore / Thus he was; Lord Verulam / Bacon; voice / utterance; proportion / proportions; he was ... affectations / (clauses transposed); PARAGRAPH II — From the ruins of Shelley / From his ruins; great original / original; called such / considered such; Prometheus / “Alastor”; were content perforce I were forced etc.; great and mature / mature; were interwoven ... of obscurity, and exaggeration; or quaintness, / obscurity ... were interwoven; misplaced didacticism / out-of-place etc.; even more preposterously anomalous / the more anomalous; error ... truth / (interchanged); it was this extreme which / which; in Tennyson / (Tennyson); abandon, the / abandon and the; sense, the most profound instinct of Art / sense, with ... analysis); we say / I say; of antagonisms / seeming antagonisms; must be purely fortuitous / will ... chance; has the world never yet seen the noblest of poems / world ... poem; of which it is possible that it may be put in possession. / which ... composed.

Most significant, perhaps, are the changes for “Alastor” and Coleridge, discussed below.

expression) b. This comes from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage III, xcvii: “ ... Could I wreak / My thoughts upon expression ... ” Poe knew his Bryon well, of course. A reminder of this lay in 1/43 Graham’s 22.55, with a non-Poe article on Mrs. Seba Smith which says: “A mind of this order must at times ‘wreak itself upon expression.“’ Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm” was on 22.32.

Plant) c. The comparison of poet and singing bird could not fail to occur to the mind — of writer and reader — after the mention of Percy Bysshe Shelley who, with Keats and Tennyson, was usually mentioned as in the triumvirate of lyrists (see nineteen more loci for Poe treatments of Shelley in PD 84). The “Sensitive Plant” (written and published 1820; included in Poetical Works, 1839) was a particular favorite of Poe, often cited: “of the purest ideality” (H 8.299); “mystic” or “suggestive” in the best sense (10.66); “sublime” (11.255). Consider two Poe-like excerpts: “It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!” (Part 1,77) and “ ... In this life / .... / Where nothing is, but all things seem, / And we the shadows of the dream” (Conc., 122-25). Poe’s close reading and ardent discussions of Shelley are reflected amusingly in a footnote by Poe’s one-time friend George G. Foster in the first complete American edition of Shelley’s Poetical Works (N. Y.,1845; Boston, 1852, p.12). He discusses the “music” of the “most perfect” poem, now known as “Indian Serenade” with its “ ... And a spirit in my feet / Has led me — who knows how?”; he appends this note: “Mr. Poe tells me that this was originally written ‘God knows how?’ But I have not felt at liberty to change the text sanctioned by Mrs. Shelley.”

in itself) d. The sentence comes indirectly from Rom. 2:14: “These ... are a law unto themselves.”

sincere) e. For this key sentence by Bacon see M 147 and the note thereon. [page 360:]

fire) f. Poe’s structure here seems to be a combination of the Tower of Babel or Belus, as in Pin 141, and a Chinese pagoda with bells that come from the description of the mad Ophelia, “Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh” in Hamlet (3.1.166). In the many refs. to Shelley, Poe scarcely addresses the question of Shelley’s purpose, which, being propaganda for Godwinian enlightenment through applied perfectibility, would scarcely be allowable. In changing “Prometheus” (i.e. “Unbound”) to “Alastor” (subtitled “The Spirit of Solitude”) Poe is following his own suggestion in “Young men” since the theme of “Alastor” is the quest of the doomed youth for the visionary ideal in terms reminiscent of the magic boat of “The Domain of Arnheim.” Peculiarly Poe seems to consider “glare” as equivalent to “bizarrerie” — a word of which he is fond in its normal sense (TOM 532/27; also, 338/30). For “spectrum” Poe is apparently going back to the root of the word, meaning “image.”

Coleridge) g. Poe here had reduced his scorn (in shortening the qualifying phrase) of Coleridge’s metaphysicianism (see this Poe coinage in PCW 31 for two other scornful uses beside the source passage). Even in the 1831 “Letter to B —— ” prefacing Poems Poe devoted much space to the sentimentality and didacticism of Wordsworth (see H 7.xxxix-xliii; given here in the 1836, revised text). In subsequent refs. (PD 99) he usually frees him from the onus of didacticism, which he charges against the New England poets.

composed) h. Poe probably refers to the half decade before Poems of 1842 when Tennyson revised earlier works and rigorously revised his manner and technique, but Poe overstresses the role of Shelley and ignores that of Keats (see M 44). Both “Shelleyan” and “Tennysonian” (for the second see also rev. of 1846, H 13.129) are the first instances of the words (PCW 77). For Poe’s favorite word “abandon” and its French form, see sent. 2 of this article, letter of 11/23/40, para. 2 of Intro. to M, and various refs. given there (also M 291 n.e). We note Poe’s addition of the parenthesis on “Instinct and Analysis” to his 1845 text, showing his increasing stress on the second, especially, for creativity, as in “The Philosophy of Composition.”

Marginalia 214

In my ballad called “Lenore” I have these lines:

Avaunt! to night my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise —

But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days.

Mr. William W. Lord, author of “Niagara,” &c., has it thus: [page 361:]

— They, albeit with inward pain,

Who thought to sing thy dirge, must sing thy Paean.(a)

The commencement of my “Haunted Palace” is as follows:

In the greenest of our valleys

By good angels tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace

(Radiant palace!) reared its head.

In the monarch Thought’s dominion —

It stood there.

Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair.

Banners, yellow, glorious, golden,

On its roof did float and flow —

This — all this — was in the olden

Time long ago.

Mr. Lord writes —

On the old and haunted mountain —

(There in dreams I dared to climb,)

Where the clear Castalian fountain

(Silver fountain!) ever tinkling,

All the green around it sprinkling,

Makes perpetual rhyme —

To my dream, enchanted, golden,

Came a vision of the olden

Long-forgotten time.(b)


Paean) a. For W. B. Lord see M 169, briefly lashing out at the poet who was favored by the Knickerbocker group, as Poe shows at the start of the BJ rev. of Lord’s Poems (5/4/45, 1.328-331), largely devoted to Lord’s “drivel” and plagiarisms. As Poe indicates in the review, Lord’s title is “A Hymn to Niagara” which should be “Hymn to Mr. Lord” because of the omnipresence of “the figure of little Mr. Lord, in the shape of a great capital L” Poe continues: “The grossest plagiarisms, indeed, abound. We would have no trouble, even, in pointing out a score from our most unimportant self.” Poe’s lines are a variant form of 11. 44-48 of the 1843 Pioneer version of “Lenore” (see TOM Poems 336). Lord’s “theft” comes from “Ode to England,” 11. 207-8, p. 27. Poe might have commented also on the strange pronunciation by Lord of “Paean” which evidently rhymes with “pain.”

time) b. Both excerpts are reprinted from BJ, p. 330/2, virtually without change save for the exclamation point within the parenthesis, probably inserted to mark the parallel between the two poems (it is not included at all in TOM’s printing of “The Haunted Palace,” p. 315), [page 362:] although variants in accidentals are not indicated. TOM also remarks in his headnote that Poe’s BJ statement about Lord’s plagiarism in “The New Castalia” (p. 57; the beginning of both poems) “was an ironic jest. Lord’s poem was a deliberate parody, which Poe pretended to take seriously.” His using the same material for this article militates against TOM’s exculpation. Moreover, the tone of the long BJ review is purely indignant and contemptuous. Curiously, the 7/49 [revised] version of “The Bells” (st. 1) uses these words of Lord’s quoted stanza: “silver” [bells], “tinkling,” “sprinkling” and “rhyme” — four suspectable coincidences to a Poeian mindset.

Marginalia 215

This* is a thin pamphlet of thirty-two pages; each containing about a hundred and forty words. The hero, Alla-Ad-Deep, is the son of Alladdin of wonderful lamp memory;(a) and the story is in the “Vision of Mirza” or “Rasselas” way. The design is to reconcile us with evil on the ground that, comparatively, we are of little importance in the scale of creation. This scale, however, the author himself assumes as infinite; and thus his argument proves too much: for if evil is to be regarded by man as unimportant because, comparatively, he is so, it must be regarded as unimportant by the angels for a similar reason-and so on in a neverending ascent. In other words, nothing is proved beyond the bullish proposition that evil is no evil at all.(b)

* “The Dream of Alla-Ad-Deep, from the Romance of ‘Anastasia.’ By Charles Erskine White, D.D.” “Charles Erskine White” is Laughton Osborn, author of “The Vision of Rubeta,” “Confessions of a Poet,” “Adventures of Jeremy Levis,” and several other works-among which I must not forget “Arthur Carryl.”


memory) a. This is an excerpt, with minor changes in wording, from Poe’s “Literati” sketch of Laughton Osborn in the 6/46 Godey’s (H 15.44-49), the third para., that being directly before the source of M 205, q.v. concerning this author. This article is less flattering than the other, but the implied comparison in the second sentence and the imputation of philosophical seriousness at the end shows Poe’s continuing endeavor to please. The spelling of “Alladdin” with two “I’s” is not sanctioned for “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” in the Arabian Nights, but Poe may be echoing the “sacred pun” of Osborn’s title; hence, it is unchanged here (see para. 2 of b below). Joseph Addison published his allegory, “The Vision of Mirza” in Spectator 159; in 1759 Samuel Johnson published The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, the didactic tale of the “happy valley” which some have suggested as a source of Poe’s “Eleonora.”

at all) b. Poe omits the last two sentences in the para. of the sketch, [page 363:] mentioning the lack of public notice and its being more suitable for magazine publication. In calling the “proposition” “bullish” (hyphenated in the sketch) Poe uses a term for “laughably erroneous” which has only two 17th century instances (one in Milton) in the OED, although an 1835 “bullism” by Marryat is given.

The Month of 10/1938, pp. 20-22, describes the MS, of the first three and one-third paras. of the sketch of Laughton Osborn which contains M 215; it was apparently the fair copy sent to the printer or a duplicate, with no markings or corrections. The article carries a facsimile of the item, being sold at Goodspeed’s. Here Poe correctly gives “Aladdin” but may be assumed to have certified the compositor’s change to the double “ll” if he proofread the article.

Marginalia 216

I hardly know how to account for the repeated failures of John Neal as regards the construction of his works. His art is great and of a high character — but it is massive and undetailed. He seems to be either deficient in a sense of completeness, or unstable in temperament; so that he becomes wearied with his work before getting it done. He always begins well — vigorously — startlingly — proceeds by fits — much at random — now prosing, now gossiping, now running away with his subject, now exciting vivid interest; but his conclusions are sure to be hurried and indistinct; so that the reader, perceiving a falling-off where he expects a climax, is pained, and, closing the book with dissatisfaction, is in no mood to give the author credit for the vivid sensations which have been aroused during the progress of perusal. Of all literary foibles the most fatal, perhaps, is that of defective climax. Nevertheless, I should be inclined to rank John Neal first, or at all events second, among our men of indisputable genius. Is it, or is it not a fact, that the air of a Democracy agrees better with mere Talent than with Genius?


Note: The long and varied career of John Neal (1793-1876) of Portland, journalist, narrative poet, essayist, and novelist, took him to Great Britain and to Baltimore, where he greatly increased his perspective of American literary affairs. Poe hailed him as first to encourage his talent (Ostrom 136) and showed knowledge of his numerous works of fiction and journalism (see PD 67 for loci of about 20 refs. and passages). In the 4/26/1850 Portland Advertiser Neal appreciatively and lengthily (see Quinn 667-68) defended Poe against Griswold’s “Ludwig” editorial attack — proof that he never regarded Poe as hostile to him (see M 197 for this modern notion). His defense of American nationality in literature here and abroad makes him a key figure in the [page 364:] American Renaissance; likewise, the numerous works of “this enthusiastic, flamboyant writer” (OCAL, p. 586), whom Poe perceptively evaluates in this para. For a good treatment of the two men, viewed together, see Benjamin Lease, PS, 1974, 7.38-41.

This is adapted from a passage on Laughton Osborn in the “Literati” of 1846, used also for M 215. A para. compares him to Neal (H 15.46); most of the third and fourth sentences of M 216 duplicates earlier text. The MS. of this article is in the Univ. of Texas Library at Austin, and Moldenhauer, Catalog 27-28, gives variations in the substantives, chiefly significant for the first sentence. See also pp. 34-35 for variations in substantives in another MS. of the Osborn “Literati” sketch containing the source-text for M 216.

Marginalia 217

It is not proper, (to use a gentle word,) nor does it seem courageous, to attack our foe by name in spirit and in effect, so that all the world shall know whom we mean, while we say to ourselves, “I have not attacked this man by name in the eye, and according to the letter, of the law“yet how often are men who call themselves gentlemen, guilty of this meanness! We need reform at this point of our Literary Morality: — very sorely, too, at another — the system of anonymous reviewing. Not one respectable word can be said in defence of this most unfair — this most despicable and cowardly practice.


Note: This is one of several articles concerned with the aims and functions of magazine reviewing, such as MM 211-212. Poe is clearly thinking about attacking a “foe” in print, without naming him, and gives a biblical aura to his article derived from snippets from various texts about judgment and about the “law,” such as these: Matt. 7:5: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye”; 2 Cor. 3:6: “Ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit”; Rom. 2:29: “Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter”; Rom. 7:6: “We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

This short article’s first sentence is a close adaptation of one in a passage in the Univ. of Texas Library MSS. given verbatim by Moldenhauer, Cata. 26-27. Earlier Poe alludes to Laughton Osborn as being “weak” in acceding to the publisher’s timorous demand to omit proper names and in anonymous publication. Moldenhauer cites the Parke-Bernet Sale catalogue of 4/5/39 for the suggestion of Jeremy Levis as the book intended, but Osborne’s anonymous satire The Vision of Rubeta is a likely candidate (see H 12.107-108, 13.165, 167; 15.47-48). [page 365:]

Marginalia 218

There lies a deep and sealed well

Within yon leafy forest hid,

Whose pent and lonely waters swell

Its confines chill and drear amid.

This putting the adjective after the noun is, merely, an inexcusable Gallicism;(a) but the putting the preposition after the noun is alien to all language and in opposition to all its principles. Such things, in general, serve only to betray the versifier’s poverty of resource; and, when an inversion of this kind occurs, we say to ourselves, “Here the poet lacked the skill to make out his line without distorting the natural or colloquial order of the words.” Now and then, however, we must refer the error not to deficiency of skill, but to something far less defensible — to an idea that such things belong to the essence of poetry — that it needs them to distinguish it from prose — that we are poetical, in a word, very much in the ratio of our unprosaicalness at these points. Even while employing the phrase “poetic license,” — a phrase which has to answer for an infinity of sins — people who think in this way seem to have an indistinct conviction that the license in question involves a necessity of being adopted. The true artist will avail himself of no “license” whatever. The very word will disgust him; for it says — “Since you seem unable to manage without these peccadillo advantages, you must have them, I suppose; and the world, half-shutting its eyes, will do its best not to see the awkwardness which they stamp upon your poem.”(b)

Few things have greater tendency than inversion, to render verse feeble and ineffective. In most cases where a line is spoken of as “forcible,” the force may be referred to directness of expression. A vast majority of the passages which have become household through frequent quotation, owe their popularity either to this directness, or, in general, to the scorn of “poetic license.” In short as regards verbal construction, the more prosaic a poetical style is, the better. Through this species of prosaicism, Cowper, with scarcely one of the higher poetical elements, came very near making his age fancy him the equal of Pope; and to the same cause are attributable three-fourths of that unusual point and force for which Thomas Moore is distinguished. It is the prosaicism of these two writers to which is owing their especial quotability.(c)


Gallicism) a. The stanza cited is the first stanza of “Alone” by Mary Elizabeth Howitt (1807-94) in her Songs of Our Land (Boston, 1845), p. 38. Poe reviewed this volume twice: in the 10/25/45 BJ , 2.247-48 (H. 12.254-59) and in the 2/46 Godey’s from which this article is closely adapted, as will be shown (see H. 13.98-104 for full reprint). In general the two reviews give us the impression of “poetic fervor, classicism of taste. ... vigorous thought and expression” (12.255) rather than [page 366:] “feeble, ineffective” versification, as here. Moreover, in commenting on Griswold’s inclusion of her work in the Female Poets of America (1849 ed., pp. 157-163), he ranks Mrs. Hewitt as among the top dozen of the nearly 100 ladies chosen. In the “literati” sketch of the 10/46 Godey’s Poe says much about her “keen sense of poetic excellence” and “great ability” (H 15.123-26) and almost certainly prepared another sketch with a bit more reservation but still very laudatory comments (printed in the “Appendix” by H, pp. 288-293). We may well wonder about the relations between a woman of one book and many “fugitive pieces” (see Griswold’s favorable headnote in the Female Poets), who appears in no standard biographical dictionary of American authors and poets. She enters into Poe annals through several letters exchanged with Poe (Ostrom Check List Nos. 528, 532-33, 541, 581, 600, 618), refs. to her presence at New York soirées with Poe (e.g., Mary Phillips, Poe, 953, 1037, 1066), her involvement sympathetically in the penury of the Poe family, at such critical times as 12/46 (see her letter to Mrs. Osgood, H 17.273-74), and Poe’s frank revelations to her about the Sarah Whitman courtship (Quinn 583-85, 506). Poe’s overpraise in the mid-40s led, perhaps, to this corrective ukase about avoiding poetic inversion, but here without naming his “horrible example.” We might note Poe’s occasionally transgressing, as in Tamerlane, 11. 81-82 (Poems 56): “Thus I remember having dwelt / Some page of early lore upon.” Of course, Poe calls it a “Gallicism” to put the adjectives after their noun (as commonly Milton does in his “Latinism”) — but in the case of compounds this is normal even in prose, with many unexceptionable examples to be found in Poe as well. In English and German, certain constructions and verbs normally put the preposition after the object (“Whom did you give the book to?”) — and in Poe’s usage as well.

poem) b. The phrase, “poetic license,” is used here in its standard form of liberties taken with the word order, grammar, or content. Even in its Latin form the phrase was traditional, as in Phaedrus, Fables (IV, 25, 1. 8): “Using, as is his habit, a poet’s licence” (“Usus Poetae, ut moris est, licentia). Poe’s “unprosaicalness” is his coinage, although Leigh Hunt first used the positive form (without the “un-”) in 1844.

quotability) c. Poe seems to have read widely in William Cowper (1731-1800) or at least in selections of his “beauties,” for his epigraphs for “L‘Omelette” and the 1827 Tamerlane are from him and there are several passages of discussion of his style (see PD 23-24 for loci), although the vagueness and absence of the titles of works make it seem literary “hearsay,” but Cowper’s Task and the Olney hymns never matched Pope’s works in popularity. The sudden intrusion of Thomas Moore, so dear to Poe for his Irish Melodies, novels, narrative poems, life of Byron, etc. (1779-1852), seems unwarranted by this element, of no significance in his work, until we note M 42, where the three poets are once again united in the discussion of similes versus metaphors which then goes [page 367:] into prosaic word order, the whole taken from Poe’s rev. of Moore’s Alciphron (in the 1/40 BGM; H 10.68). This is the germ of this whole article; see also M 42.

A rough collation of this article with its sources would be as follows: “This putting ... resource” is, almost verbatim, a passage in the 2/46 Godey’s rev. of Songs of Our Land. The rest of the article greatly expands the rest of the para. in the rev., filling it out with the imaginary dialogue. The original ends with this: “No modern poet is more remarkable for this species of prosaicism than Moore, and to this his unusual point and force are mainly attributable. It will be observed that he is the most quotable of poets.”

The last 106 words of this article are held by the Texas Univ. Library, as a printer’s MS copy described by Moldenhauer, Catalog 28 with three changes in wording recorded.

Marginalia 219

“The Reverend Arthur Coxe’s ’Saul, a Mystery,’ having been condemned in no measured terms by Poe, of ‘The Broadway Journal,’ and Green of ‘The Emporium,’ a writer in the ‘Hartford Columbian’ retorts as follows:

An entertaining history,

Entitled ’Saul, A Mystery,’

Has recently been published by the Reverend Arthur Coxe.

The poem is dramatic,

And the wit of it is attic,

And its teachings are emphatic of the doctrines orthodox.

But Mr. Poe, the poet,

Declares he cannot go it —

That the book is very stupid, or something of that sort:

And Green, of the Empori-

Um, tells a kindred story,

And swears like any tory that it isn‘t worth a groat.

But maugre all the croaking

Of the Raven and the joking

Of the verdant little fellow of the used to be review,

The People, in derision

Of their impudent decision,

Have declared, without division, that the Mystery will do.”

The truth, of course, rather injures an epigram than otherwise; and nobody will think the worse of the one above, when I say that, at the date of its first appearance, I had expressed no opinion whatever of the [page 369:] poem to which it refers. “Give a dog a bad name,” &c. Whenever a book is abused, people take it for granted that it is I who have been abusing it.

Latterly I have read “Soul,” and agree with the epigrammatist, that it “will do” — whoever attempts to wade through it. It will do, also, for trunk-paper. The author is right in calling it “A Mystery:” — for a most unfathomable mystery it is. When I got to the end of it I found it more mysterious than ever — and it was really a mystery how I ever did get to the end — which I half fancied that somebody had cut off, in a fit of ill-will to the critics. I have heard not a syllable about the “Mystery,” of late days. “The People,” seem to have forgotten it; and Mr. Coxe’s friends should advertise it under the head of “Mysterious Disappearance” — that is to say, the disappearance of a Mystery.


Note: Save for a few words this is identical with Poe’s column in the “Editorial Miscellany” of the 9/6/45 BJ , 2.142 (misnumbered 143), in H 12.243-44. These are the significant collations (BJ first): isn‘t / is‘nt (typo, corrected); their croaking / the croaking; truth / truth; we (editorial plural) / I (all converted. After “abusing it” appear two sentences in BJ : “Mr. Coxe has written some very beautiful poems, and ’Soul’ may be one of them for anything that we know to the contrary. As yet we have not found time to read the poem — which, to say the truth, is an unconscionably long one.” The present last para. is new.

The Rev. Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-96) was an Episcopalian churchman at Hartford and Baltimore (43-65) before becoming bishop of western New York. Before Saul he published Advent, a Mystery and Christian Ballads (1840), long having a good popular sale (with over 7 eds. by 1865). His conservative thinking led to his rejection of scientific tendencies in Holy Writ and Modern Thought (1892). In the complete absence of any copies of the Hartford Columbian (which I have sought), and of relevant issues of the weekly Saturday Emporium of New York, Mr. Green must remain an “unknown.” The item was carried by the 8/1/45 Morning News, O’Sullivan ed. (II, no. 138, p. 4/1).

The phrase with “tory” must come from the Gaelic original meaning pursuer, then outlaw, marauder, brigand, moss-trooper (cf. “swear like a trooper”) prior to its 1689 shift in meaning to one of the political factions (see OED).

It is amusing that the second stanza begins with a seeming ref. to a celebrated pun on Poe’s name that probably originated with Poe himself, in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger of 12/18/39, “Enigmatical and Conundrum-ical,” no. 25: “Why ought the author of the ‘Grotesque and Arabesque’ to be a good writer of verses? / Because he’s a poet to a t. Add t to Poe makes it Poet.” This was repeated in the 3/1/45 Evening Mirror installment of the “Outis” war, and in turn was reprinted by Poe himself in his comments in the 3/8/45 BJ (1.149): “Write it rather Edgar, [page 369:] a Poet, and then it is right to a T.” — by which we can identify the EM article as being by Poe himself. The placement of this phrase and its being used for a rhyme make it likely that the author had read the BJ or even, although it is a remote possibility, that Poe wrote the squib and mischievously sent it to the Columbian in the bailiwick of Coxe. That would explain the ref. to Poe’s still unpublicized contempt for the poem. That would also add a “new” poem to the Poe canon.

The complete dog-ref. is “Give a dog an ill name and hang him,” cited by Scott in Guy Mannering, ch. 23, with the added explication, “and if you give a man, or a race of men an ill name they are very likely to do something that deserves hanging.” The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (3rd ed., 1970), p. 400, gives a 1721 citation, and Bergen Evans (177/11) cites John Ray’s different form for 1670.

It is amusing that Sidney Lanier, Science of English Verse (1880), pp. 229-30, cited the first 3 lines of this squib on Saul as model humorous verse.

Marginalia 220

The pure Imagination chooses, from either Beauty or Deformity, only the most combinable things hitherto uncombined; the compound, as a general rule, partaking, in character, of beauty, or sublimity, in the ratio of the respective beauty or sublimity of the things combined — which are themselves still to be considered as atomic — that is to say, as previous combinations. But, as often analogously happens in physical chemistry, so not unfrequently does it occur in this chemistry of the intellect, that the admixture of two elements results in a something that has nothing of the qualities of one of them, or even nothing of the qualities of either ... [.]Thus, the range of Imagination is unlimited. Its materials extend throughout the universe. Even out of deformities it fabricates that Beauty which is at once its sole object and its inevitable test. But, in general, the richness or force of the matters combined; the facility of discovering combinable novelties worth combining; and, especially the absolute “chemical combination” of the completed mass — are the particulars to be regarded in our estimate of Imagination. It is this thorough harmony of an imaginative work which so often causes it to be undervalued by the thoughtless, through the character of obviousness which is superinduced. We are apt to find ourselves asking why it is that these combinations have never been imagined before.


Note: This article has been “lifted” by Poe from his own essay in the 1/18/45 BJ ,1.37-38, “American Prose Writers. / No. 2. / N. P. Willis” in which he tries to define “imagination” and “fancy.” He reprints almost [page 370:] the entire para. 7, with only a few substantive variations (in these collations the BJ text is given first): something that shall have /etc.; The range of Imagination is therefore unlimited. / etc.; chemical combination and proportion / (last two words omitted); undiscriminating / thoughtless; why is it / why it is. Poe reprinted all but the first two paras. and the last in his review of Hood’s Prose and Verse in the 8/9/45 BJ, 2.71-72. A theme from this article occurs in FS 22, concerning the artist’s “exquisite sense of Beauty” or “Deformity.” The passage here is seminal to Poe’s theory of aesthetics, with its inclusion of the grotesque; the chemical analogy does not serve to clarify. For one attempt to place it in the development of Poe’s aesthetic see R. Jacobs, Poe, pp. 365-68, involving the views of Archibald Alison (always inferential and unlikely for Poe, to my view) and Plato. Briefly I suggest Poe’s awareness of Victor Hugo’s statement on the artistic use of the deformed and grotesque in the preface to Cromwell (DP , 4-5). Poe does not elaborate satisfactorily in this assertion; “this thorough harmony” in the penultimate sentence scarcely follows from what he has said.

Marginalia 221

He (Bulwer) is the most accomplished writer of the most accomplished era of English Letters; practising all styles and classes of composition, and eminent in all — novelist, dramatist, poet, historian, moral philosopher, essayist, critic, political pamphleteer; — in each superior to all others, and only rivalled in each by himself. — Wardauthor ofTremaine.”(a)

The “only rivalled in each by himself,” here, puts me in mind of “None but himself can be his parallel.”

But surely Mr. Ward (who, although he did write “De Vere,” is by no means a fool) could never have put to paper, in his sober senses, anything so absurd as the paragraph quoted above, without stopping at every third word to hold his sides, or thrust his pocket-handkerchief into his mouth. If the serious intention be insisted upon, however, I have to remark that the opinion is the mere opinion of a writer remarkable for no other good trait than his facility at putting his readers to sleep according to rules Addisonian and with the least possible loss of labor and time. But as the mere opinion of even a Jeffrey or a Macaulay, I have an inalienable right to meet it with another.(b)

As a novelist, then, Bulwer is far more than respectable; although generally inferior to Scott, Godwin, D‘Israeli, Miss Burney, Sue, Dumas, Dickens, the author of “Ellen Wareham,” the author of “Jane Eyre,” and several others.(c) From the list of foreign novels I could select a hundred which he could neither have written nor conceived. As a dramatist, he [page 371:] deserves more credit, although he receives less. His “Richelieu,” “Money” and “Lady of Lyons” have done much in the way of opening the public eyes to the true value of what is superciliously termed “stage-effect” in the hands of one able to manage it. But if commendable at this point, his dramas fail egregiously in points more important; so that, upon the whole, he can be said to have written a good play, only when we think of him in connexion with the still more contemptible “old-dramatist” imitators who are his contemporaries and friends.(d) As historian, he is sufficiently dignified, sufficiently ornate, and more than sufficiently self-sufficient. His “Athens” would have received an Etonian prize, and has all the happy air of an Etonian prize-essay re-vamped. His political pamphlets are very good as political pamphlets and very disreputable as anything else. His essays leave no doubt upon any body’s mind that, with the writer, they have been essays indeed. His criticism is really beneath contempt. His moral philosophy is the most ridiculous of all the moral philosophies that ever have been imagined upon earth.(e)

“The men of sense,” says Helvetius, “those idols of the unthinking, are very far inferior to the men of passions. It is the strong passions which, rescuing us from sloth, can alone impart to us that continuous and earnest attention necessary to great intellectual efforts.”

When the Swiss philosopher here speaks of “inferiority,” he refers to inferiority in worldly success: — by “men of sense” he intends indolent men of genius. And Bulwer is, emphatically, one of the “men of passions” contemplated in the apophthegm. His passions, with opportunities, have made him what he is.(f) Urged by a rabid ambition to do much, in doing nothing he would merely have proved himself an idiot. Something he has done. In aiming at Crichton, he has hit the target an inch or two above Harrison Ainsworth. Not to such intellects belong the honors of universality. His works bear about them the unmistakeable indications of mere talent — talent, I grant, of an unusual order and nurtured to its extreme of development with a very tender and elaborate care. Nevertheless, it is talent still. Genius it is not. And the proof is, that while we often fancy ourselves about to be enkindled beneath its influence, fairly enkindled we never are. That Bulwer is no poet follows as a corollary from what has been already said: — for to speak of a poet without genius, is merely to put forth a flat contradiction in terms.(g)


Tremaine) a. The entire article is closely adapted from Poe’s rev. of C. Donald Macleod’s ed. of Bulwer Lytton’s Poems (N. Y., 1845) in the 2/8/45 BJ , 1.81-82, which was listed in the index of H (16.372) but omitted from his text. The major changes are in para. 3, sentence 1 (discussed below). Refs. to Macleod are dropped, this requiring changes in verb constructions, and the editorial “we” becomes “L” The quotation is from p. v of Macleod’s Preface, given in BJ with differences in accidentals. Tremaine; or, The Man of Refinement (London, 1825; 3 vols.) was [page 372:] the first of the three society novels of Robert Plumer Ward (1765-1846), his middle name assumed in 1828, successful novelist, politician (M. P., and holder of many government offices), writer on legal and political questions. It is possible that Poe borrowed the title for the impressively lordly name, in “Ligeia,” of “Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine” (TOM 321, 334n24). For Poe’s opinion see next note.

another) b. De Vere; or, The Man of Independence (2 eds., London, 1827; 4 vols.), the second of Ward’s novels, was quarried by Burton for an inane platitude defining a “gentleman” on the title page of each issue of BGM, too long to quote. In the cited line Poe is alluding to Pope’s parody, in Dunciad 3.274-275: “For works like these let deathless journals tell / None but thyself can be thy parallel,” which in turn mocks Lewis Theobald’s The Double Falsehood, 1.3.17: “None but itself can be its parallel (usually misquoted as “himself” and “his”). Ward’s hero’s name appears in Poe’s 2/43 Pioneer poem “Lenore” (see my study in Names, 1975, 23.1-5; also TOM Poems 338).

Poe often alludes adversely to Joseph Addison (1672-1719), q.v. in PD 1 and MM 92, 158 (para. 2), FS 14, and TOM 710, but in Addison he chose the wrong rule-bound figure (see Baugh, Literary History, pp. B839-40). Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), founder and editor of Edin. Rev., was well known for his unsparing criticism of the Lake School et al. Thomas Macaulay (1800-59) was the source of much information (and had an enviable reputation) to Poe, who often cited him (see PD 59, MM 61, 92, 181). In his last sentence Poe is echoing “unalienable rights” from the American Declaration of Independence (the BJ has “inalienable”). The BJ text included “Gifford” between Jeffrey and Macaulay.

others) c. This sentence differs greatly in its examples from that of the BJ , showing changes in Poe’s literary tastes and perceptions. This is the BJ text:

As a novelist then, Bulwer is far more than respectable — although he has produced few novels equal and none superior to “Robinson Crusoe” — to one or two of Smollet’s[sic] — to one or two of Fielding’s — to Miss Burney’s “Evelina” — to two or three of the Misses Porter’s — to five or six of Miss Edgeworth’s — to three or four of Godwin’s — to the majority of Scott’s — to one or two of D’Israeli’s — to three or four of Dickens’ — to the “Ellen Wareham” of Mrs. Sullivan, or to the “Ellen Middleton” of Lady Georgiana Fullerton.

We note the dropping of Defoe, Smollett, Fielding, the Misses Porter, and Edgeworth and the addition now of Sue and Dumas, in addition to the lack of quantity of novels by the authors retained. The 18th century has markedly “declined,” with only Burney and Godwin retained. Poe knew Frances Burney (1752-1840) only for Evelina (1778), her major novel. Of William Godwin (1756-1836), the great radical [page 373:] philosopher (see DP , ch. 7, “Godwin and Poe,” and PD 38), Poe probably knew only Caleb Williams, St. Leon, and Mandeville and possibly only the first directly. He surely knew most of Sir Walter Scott’s novels well (PD 82-83 — two dozen entries). The early novels of the statesman-to-be Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), especially Vivian Grey influenced both the content and technique of Poe’s tales (q.v. in Ruth Hudson’s study in AL, 1931, 8.402-16 — still the most comprehensive treatment; see PD 28 for loci). For Eugene Sue, melodramatic master of the exposé of lurid life in Paris, see M 176 and notes. This, surprisingly, is the only ref. to Alexandre Dumas père (1802-70), novelist and playwright, unless we count the physician named Paul Dumas in “Murders” (TOM 543-44). The false story of Poe’s meeting him in Paris preempts all treatments of the two together (see in Dameron’s Bibliography, “Dumas” in the Index).

The works of Charles Dickens probably occupy more pages in Poe’s criticism than those of any other novelist, although the separate passages devoted to Bulwer’s perhaps are most numerous; yet there is no truly comprehensive treatment of Poe and Dickens together save for Gerald Grubb’s in NCF, 1950, 5.1-22, 101-20, 209-21. For Poe’s “infatuation” with Ellen Wareham see M 52 and ch. 8 in DP , devoted to that “magic tale.” Poe’s fairly quick approval of “Currer Bell’s” Jane Eyre, just appearing in America in 10148, led him also to reprove Whipple for deprecating the book (Graham’s of 1/50 in H 13.193).

friends) d. Edward Bulwer Lytton produced these three plays, most successfully, on the London stage: Lady of Lyons, 1838; Richelieu, 1839; Money, 1840. Apparently Poe had seen no production of the first named when he wrote his BJ rev., but later Mrs. Mowatt’s performance, reviewed in the 7/19 BJ , made him replace the third play mentioned with the Lady of Lyons; for their theatrical flair this and Money had performances throughout the century. See M 177, extracted from Poe’s rev. of Mrs. Mowatt’s representation. See M 186 for Poe’s view of the need for progress in drama.

earth) e. For Athens see M 117. His pamphlet of 1834 on “The Crisis” when the Whigs were dismissed from office was “immensely influential” (En. Brit., 17.186); the vagueness of his ref. makes it unlikely that Poe ever saw a Bulwer pamphlet. As for essays — Baugh, Lit. History, p. 1364, says of England and the English (1833): “a shrewd and lively survey of contemporary society and culture.” Pin 1 offers an evaluation of Bulwer’s view on immortality, but rather unfairly.

what he is) f. Poe here cites a passage by Helvétius, derived from Bulwer Lytton’s novel Ernest Maltravers (1837), to denigrate the novelist. He also uses this quotation for like purpose in his 4/41 Graham’s rev. of Bulwer’s Night and Morning (H 10.114-133, specifically, 131-32). It is doubtful that Poe had ever read the works of Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-71) aside from the snippets in books of wise sayings or quoted [page 374:] in others’ texts, or he would not call him the Swiss philosopher; the name was the Latinized form of Schweitzer and he was born in Paris and thoroughly educated in France before assuming the post of farmer-general at court, giving him an ample fortune to cultivate society, poetry, and finally philosophy, embodied in De l‘Esprit (1758), seeking to rival L‘Esprit des lois of Montesquieu. The scandal, public burning, and author’s more or less coerced retractions made it widely read, translated, and remembered, especially for its thorough utilitarianism and stress on universal equality of mind before the “passions” or motives produce inequalities, even between dullness and genius. Poe perhaps did not know its great influence upon the Benthamites. Poe took his excerpt (for both citations) from Ernest Maltravers (see H 10.122, 218, 11.40, 15.81, M 77), Bk. II, ch. 5, epigraph. The variations (either through transcription carelessness or desire to make the loan slightly different) are these: unthinking I shallow; very far inferior / no far. The passage comes from “Discours” 111, ch. 7, p. 304 (Paris, Durand, 1758), or perhaps in the W. Mudford translation (1807), used in the 1809 London ed., p. 242, which shows these variations (Helvetius’ French given in parentheses: common people (médiocres) / unthinking; always inferior (toujours fort inférieurs) / very far inferior; men of passion (gens passionnés) / men of passions; continued attention (continuite d‘attention) / that continuous and earnest attention; productive of superior intellects (à laquelle est attachée la supériorité d‘esprits) / necessary to great intellectual efforts.

It was perhaps the notoriety of the marital difficulties between Bulwer and his wife (legally separated in 1836), his faults described and caricatured in her novels, that made Poe speak of his “passions.”

terms) g. For the legendary James Crichton of Scotland see M 207, and his rev. of Ainsworth’s Guy Fawkes (H 10.214), where Poe likewise deprecates the novelist in the comparison, again probably be cause of Ainsworth’s historical novel based on Crichton’s life. This too was probably Poe’s source of information. In his last sentence, Poe prudently omits differentiation among poets, poetasters, versifiers, and the many whose verses he reviews and ranks on various scales.

Marginalia 222

Quaintness, within reasonable limits, is not only not to be regarded as affectation, but has its proper uses, in aiding a fantastic effect. Miss Barret[t] will afford me two examples. In some lines to a Dog, she says:

Leap! thy broad tail waves a light.

Leap! thy slender feet are bright,

Canopied in fringes. [page 375:]

Leap! those tasselled ears of thine

Flicker strangely fair and fine

Down their golden inches.

And again — in the “Song of a Tree-Spirit.”

The Divine impulsion cleaves

In dim movements to the leaves

Dropt and lifteddropt and lifted

In the sun-light greenly sifted —

In the sun-light and the moon-light

Greenly sifted through the trees.

Ever wave the Eden trees

In the night-light and the moon-light,

With a ruffling of green branches

Shaded off to resonances

Never stirred by rain or breeze.

The thoughts here belong to a high order of poetry, but could not have been wrought into effective expression, without the aid of those repetitions — those unusual phrases — those quaintnesses, in a word, which it has been too long the fashion to censure, indiscriminately, under the one general head of “affectation.” No poet will fail to be pleased with the two extracts I have here given; but no doubt there are some who will find it hard to reconcile the psychal impossibility of refraining from admiration, with the too-hastily attained mental conviction that, critically, there is nothing to admire.


Note: This is taken, almost verbatim, from the 1/11 Bf rev. of Elizabeth Barrett’s Drama of Exile, and Other Poems, 1.17-20 (H 12.115, specifically, 12-13). Only the following of the slight changes need be collated here: in a word / (not present); poet / true poet; pleased I enraptured. In this coinage (see PCW 35, 91), used almost a dozen times, Poe sought an adjective for “soul” from “psyche” but sometimes wished only for the force of “psychological,” itself a new word in his day (OED gives 1812, 1818 as first uses in English). Perhaps MM 201, 222 and his dedication of the 1845 poems to the author of “Drama of Exile” seem not completely disinterested, considering E. B.’s importance and fancied influence (see M 201). The first excerpt is from “To Flush, my Dog” (I1. 25 f.); the second from “Drama of Exile,” 285 f.). Notice Poe’s allusion to quaintness and affectation as imputed to Shelley’s works, in M 213, para. 1.







[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 14)