Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “Marginalia (Part II),” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Stone and Kimball, vol. VII, 1895, pp. 238-270


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 238, continued:]

[[XII]] [[M200, M130, M204]]

“MESMERIC REVELATIONAND “M. VALDEMARIN LONDON

One of the happiest examples, in a small way, of the carrying-one’s-self-in-a-hand-basket logic, is to be found in a London weekly paper called the “Popular Record of Modern Science; a Journal of Philosophy and General Information.” This work has a vast circulation, and is respected by eminent men. Sometime in November, 1845, it copied from the “Columbian Magazine” of New York, a rather adventurous article of mine, called “Mesmeric Revelation.” It had the impudence, also, to spoil the title by improving it to the “Last Conversation of a Somnambule” — a phrase that is nothing at all to the purpose, since the person who “converses” is not a somnambule. He is a sleep-waker — not a sleep-walker; but I presume that the “Record” thought it was only the difference of an 1. What I chiefly complain of, however, [page 239:] is that the London editor prefaced my paper with these words: — the “following is an article communicated to the Columbian Magazine, a journal of respectability and influence in the United States, by Mr. Edgar A. Poe. It bears internal evidence of authenticity.”!

There is no subject under heaven about which funnier ideas are, in general, entertained than about this subject of internal evidence. It is by “internal evidence,” observe, that we decide upon the mind.

But to the “Record:” — On the issue of my “Valdemar Case,” this journal copies it, as a matter of course, and (also as a matter of course) improves the title, as in the previous instance. But the editorial comments may as well be called profound. Here they are: —

the “following narrative appears in a recent number of The American Magazine, a respectable periodical in the United States. It comes, it will be observed, from the narrator of the ‘Last Conversation of a Somnambule,’ published in The Record of the 29th of November. In extracting this case the Morning Post of Monday last, takes what it considers the safe side, by remarking — ‘For our own parts we do not believe it; and there are several statements made, more especially with regard to the disease of which the patient died, which at once prove the case to be either a fabrication, or the work of one little acquainted with consumption. The story, however, is wonderful, and we therefore give it.’ The editor, however, does not point out the especial statements which are inconsistent with what we know of the progress of consumption, and as few scientific persons would be willing to take their pathology anymore than their logic from the Morning Post, his caution, it is to be feared, will not have much weight. The reason assigned by the Post for publishing the account is quaint, and would apply equally to an [page 240:] adventure from Baron Munchausen: — ‘it is wonderful and we therefore give it.’ . . . The above case is obviously one that cannot be received except on the strongest testimony, and it is equally clear that the testimony by which it is at present accompanied, is not of that character. The most favorable circumstances in support of it, consist in the fact that credence is understood to be given to it at New York, within a few miles of which city the affair took place, and where consequently the most ready means must be found for its authentication or disproval. The initials of the medical men and of the young medical student must be sufficient in the immediate locality, to establish their identity, especially as M. Valdemar was well known, and had been so long ill as to render it out of the question that there should be any difficulty in ascertaining the names of the physicians by whom he had been attended. In the same way the nurses and servants under whose cognizance the case must have come during the seven months which it occupied, are of course accessible to all sorts of inquiries. It will, therefore, appear that there must have been too many parties concerned to render prolonged deception practicable. The angry excitement and various rumors which have at length rendered a public statement necessary, are also sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place. On the other hand there is no strong point for disbelief. The circumstances are, as the Post says, ‘wonderful;’ but so are all circumstances that come to our knowledge for the first time — and in Mesmerism everything is new. An objection may be made that the article has rather a Magazinish air; Mr. Poe having evidently written with a view to effect, and so as to excite rather than to subdue the vague appetite for the mysterious and the horrible which such a case, under any circumstances, is sure to awaken — but apart from this there is nothing to deter a philosophic mind from further inquiries regarding it. It is a matter entirely for testimony. [So it is.] Under this view we shall take [page 241:] steps to procure from some of the most intelligent and influential citizens of New York all the evidence that can be had upon the subject. No steamer will leave England for America till the 3d of February, but within a few weeks of that time we doubt not it will be possible to lay before the readers of the Record information which will enable them to come to a pretty accurate conclusion.”

Yes; and no doubt they came to one accurate enough, in the end. But all this rigmarole is what people call testing a thing by “internal evidence.” The Record insists upon the truth of the story because of certain facts — because “the initials of the young men must be sufficient to establish their identity” — because “the nurses must be accessible to all sorts of inquiries” — and because the “angry excitement and various rumors which at length rendered a public statement necessary, are sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place.”

To be sure! The story is proved by these facts — the facts about the students, the nurses, the excitement, the credence given the tale at New York. And now all we have to do is to prove these facts. Ah! — they are proved by the story.

As for the Morning Post, it evinces more weakness in its disbelief than the Record in its credulity. What the former says about doubting on account of inaccuracy in the detail of the phthisical symptoms, is a mere fetch, as the Cockneys have it, in order to make a very few little children believe that it, the Post, is not quite so stupid as a post proverbially is. It knows nearly as much about pathology as it does about English grammar — and I really hope it will not feel called upon to blush at the compliment. I represented the symptoms of M. Valdemar as “severe,” to be sure. I put an extreme [page 242:] case; for it was necessary that I should leave on the reader’s mind no doubt as to the certainty of death without the aid of the Mesmerist — but such symptoms might have appeared — the identical symptoms have appeared, and will be presented again and again. Had the Post been only half as honest as ignorant, it would have owned that it disbelieved for no reason more profound than that which influences all dunces in disbelieving — it would have owned that it doubted the thing merely because the thing was a “wonderful” thing, and had never yet been printed in a book.

The Swedenborgians inform me that they have discovered all that I said in a magazine article, entitled “Mesmeric Revelation,” to be absolutely true, although at first they were very strongly inclined to doubt my veracity — a thing which, in that particular instance, I never dreamed of not doubting myself. The story is a pure fiction from beginning to end.

[[XIII]] [[M198, M210, M100, M208, M169 and M-035]]

PLAGIARISM

In a reply to a letter signed “Outis,” and defending Mr. Longfellow from certain charges supposed to have been made against him by myself, I took occasion to assert that “of the class of willful plagiarists nine out of ten are authors of established reputation who plunder recondite, neglected, or forgotten books.” I came to this conclusion à priori; but experience has confirmed me in it. Here is a plagiarism from Channing; and as it is perpetrated by an anonymous writer in a Monthly Magazine, the theft seems at war with my assertion — until it is seen that the Magazine in question is Campbell’s New Monthly for August, [page 243:] 1828. Channing, at that time, was comparatively unknown; and, besides, the plagiarism appeared in a foreign country, where there was little probability of detection.

Channing, in his essay on Bonaparte, says:

“We would observe that military talent, even of the highest order, is far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is not conversant with the highest and richest objects of thought. . . . Still the chief work of a general is to apply physical force — to remove physical obstructions — to avail himself of physical aids and advantages — to act on matter — to overcome rivers, ramparts, mountains, and human muscles; and these are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest order: — and accordingly nothing is more common than to find men, eminent in this department, who are almost wholly wanting in the noblest energies of the soul — in imagination and taste — in the capacity of enjoying works of genius — in large views of human nature — in the moral sciences — in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society, and in original conceptions on the great subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings.”

The thief in the “New Monthly,” says:

“Military talent, even of the highest grade, is very far from holding the first place among intellectual endowments. It is one of the lower forms of genius, for it is never made conversant with the more delicate and abstruse of mental operations. It is used to apply physical force; to remove physical force; to remove physical obstructions; to avail itself of physical aids and advantages; and all these are not the highest objects of mind, nor do they demand intelligence of the highest and rarest order. [page 244:] Nothing is more common than to find men, eminent in the science and practice of war, wholly wanting in the nobler energies of the soul; in imagination, in taste, in enlarged views of human nature, in the moral sciences, in the application of analysis and generalization to the human mind and to society; or in original conceptions on the great subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings.”

The article in the “New Monthly” is on the “State of Parties.” The italics are mine.

Apparent plagiarisms frequently arise from an author’s self-repetition. He finds that something he has already published has fallen dead — been overlooked — or that it is peculiarly àpropos to another subject now under discussion. He therefore introduces the passage; often without allusion to his having printed it before; and sometimes he introduces it into an anonymous article. An anonymous writer is thus, now and then, unjustly accused of plagiarism — when the sin is merely that of self-repetition.

In the present case, however, there has been a deliberate plagiarism of the silliest as well as meanest species. Trusting to the obscurity of his original, the plagiarist has fallen upon the idea of killing two birds with one stone — of dispensing with all disguise but that of decoration.

Channing says “order” — the writer in the New Monthly says “grade.” The former says that this order is “far from holding,” etc. — the latter says it is “very far from holding.” The one says that military talent is “not conversant,” and so on — the other says “it is never made conversant.” The one speaks of “the highest and richest objects” — the other of “the more delicate and abstruse.” Channing speaks of “thought” — the thief of “mental operations.” [page 245:] Channing mentions “intelligence of the highest order” — the thief will have it of “the highest and rarest.” Channing observes that military talent is often “almost wholly wanting,” etc. — the thief maintains it to be “wholly wanting.” Channing alludes to “large views of human nature” — the thief can be content with nothing less than “enlarged” ones. Finally, the American having been satisfied with a reference to “subjects which have absorbed the most glorious understandings,” the Cockney puts him to shame at once by discoursing about “subjects which have occupied and absorbed the most glorious of human understandings” — as if one could be absorbed, without being occupied, by a subject — as if of were here any thing more than two superfluous letters — and as if there were any chance of the reader’s supposing that the understandings in question were the understandings of frogs, or jackasses, or Johnny Bulls.

By the way, in a case of this kind, whenever there is a question as to who is the original and who the plagiarist, the point may be determined, almost invariably, by observing which passage is amplified, or exaggerated, in tone. To disguise his stolen horse, the uneducated thief cuts off the tail; but the educated thief prefers tying on a new tail at the end of the old one, and painting them both sky blue.

One of our truest poets is Thomas Buchanan Read. His most distinctive features are, first, “tenderness,” or subdued passion, and secondly, fancy. His sin is imitativeness. At present, although evincing high capacity, he is but a copyist of Longfellow — that is to say, but the echo of an echo. Here is a beautiful thought which is not the property of Mr. Read: — [page 246:]

And, where the spring-time sun had longest shone,

A violet looked up and found itself alone.

Here again: a Spirit

Slowly through the lake descended,

Till from her hidden form below

The waters took a golden glow,

As if the star which made her forehead bright

Had burst and filled the lake with light.

Lowell has some lines very similar, ending with

As if a star had burst within his brain.

In a “Hymn for Christmas,” by Mrs. Hemans, we find the following stanza:

Oh, lovely voices of the sky

Which hymned the Saviour’s birth,

Are ye not singing still on high,

Ye that sang “Peace on Earth”?

To us yet speak the strains

Wherewith, in times gone by,

Ye blessed the Syrian swains,

Oh, voices of the sky!

And at page 305 of the “Christian Keepsake and Missionary Annual for 1840″ — a Philadelphian Annual — we find “A Christmas Carol,” by Richard W. Dodson: — the first stanza running thus: —

Angel voices of the sky!

Ye that hymned Messiah’s birth,

Sweetly singing from on high

“Peace, Goodwill to all on earth!”

Oh, to us impart those strains!

Bid our doubts and fears to cease!

Ye that cheered the Syrian swains,

Cheer us with that song of peace!

A rather bold and quite unnecessary plagiarism — from a book too well known to promise impunity: — [page 247:]

“It is now full time to begin to brush away the insects of literature, whether creeping or fluttering, which have too long crawled over and soiled the intellectual ground of this country. It is high time to shake the little sickly stems of many a puny plant, and make its fading flowerets fall.” — Monthly Register (New York, 1807), ii. 243.

On the other hand —

“I have brushed away the insects of Literature, whether fluttering or creeping; I have shaken the little stems of many a puny plant, and the flowerets have fallen.” — Preface to the “Pursuits of Literature.”

A long time ago — twenty-three or four years at least — Edward C. Pinckney, of Baltimore, published an exquisite poem entitled “A Health.” It was profoundly admired by the critical few, but had little circulation: — this for no better reason than that the author was born too far South. I quote a few lines:

Affections are as thoughts to her,

The measures of her hours

Her feelings have the fragrancy,

The freshness of young flowers.

To her the better elements

And kindlier stars have given

A forth so fair, that, like the air,

Tis less of Earth than Heaven.

Now, in 1842, Mr. George Hill published the “Ruins of Athens and Other Poems” — and from one of the “Other Poems” I quote what follows: —

And thoughts go sporting through her mind

Like children among flowers;

And deeds of gentle goodness are

The measures of her hours. [page 248:]

In soul or face she bears no trace

Of one from Eden driven,

But like the rainbow seems, though born

Of Earth, a part of Heaven.

Is this plagiarism or is it not? — I merely ask for information.

With the aid of a lantern, I have been looking again at “Niagara and other Poems” (Lord only knows if that be the true title) — but “there’s nothing in it:” — at least nothing of Mr. Lord’s own — nothing which is not stolen — or, (more delicately), transfused — transmitted. By the way, Newton says a great deal about “fits of easy transmission and reflection,”* and I have no doubt that “Niagara” was put together in one of these identical fits.

Fellows who really have no right — some individuals have — to purloin the property of their predecessors. Mere buzzards; or, in default of that, mere pechingzies — the species of creatures that they tell us of in the Persian Compendiums of Natural History — animals very soft and very sly, with ears of such length that, while one answers for a bed, the other is all that is necessary for a counterpane. A race of dolts — literary Cacuses, whose clumsily stolen bulls never fail of leaving behind them ample evidence of having been dragged into the thief-den by the tail.

[[XIV]] [[M188]]

EMERSON

When I consider the true talent — the real force of Mr. Emerson, I am lost in amazement at finding in him little more than a respectful imitation of Carlyle. Is it possible that Mr. E. has ever seen a copy [page 249:] of Seneca? Scarcely — or he would long ago have abandoned his model in utter confusion at the parallel between his own worship of the author of “Sartor Resartus” and the aping of Sallust by Aruntius, as described in the 114th Epistle. In the writer of the “History of the Punic Wars” Emerson is portrayed to the life. The parallel is close; for not only is the imitation of the same character, but the things imitated are identical.

Undoubtedly it is to be said of Sallust, far more plausibly than of Carlyle, that his obscurity, his unusuality of expression, and his Laconism (which had the effect of diffuseness, since the time gained in the mere perusal of his pithiness is trebly lost in the necessity of cogitating them out) — it may be said of Sallust, more truly than of Carlyle, that these qualities bore the impress of his genius, and were but a portion of his unaffected thought.

If there is any difference between Aruntius and Emerson, this difference is clearly in favor of the former, who was in some measure excusable, on the ground that he was as great a fool as the latter is not.

[[XV]] [[M219]]

COXES “SAUL

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. [page 250:]

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 is’nt 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 poem to which it refers. “Give a dog a bad name,” etc. Whenever a book is abused, people take it for granted that it is I who have been abusing it.

Latterly I have read “Saul,” 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. [page 251:]

[[XVI]] [[M266]]

ART

To see distinctly the machinery — the wheels and pinions — of any work of Art is, unquestionably, of itself, a pleasure, but one which we are able to enjoy only just in proportion as we do not enjoy the legitimate effect designed by the artist: — and, in fact, it too often happens that to reflect analytically upon Art, is to reflect after the fashion of the mirrors in the temple of Smirna [[Smyrna]], which represent the fairest images as deformed.

[[XVII]] [[M052]]

”ELLEN MIDDLETON

A remarkable work, and one which I find much difficulty in admitting to be the composition of a woman. Not that many good and glorious things have not been the composition of women — but, because, here, the severe precision of style, the thoroughness, and the luminousness, are points never observable, in even the most admirable of their writings. Who is Lady Georgiana Fullerton? Who is that Countess of Dacre, who edited “Ellen Wareham,” — the most passionate of fictions — approached, only in some particulars of passion, by this? The great defect of “Ellen Middleton,” lies in the disgusting sternness, captiousness, and bullet-headedness of her husband. We cannot sympathize with her love for him. And the intense selfishness of the rejected lover precludes that compassion which is designed. Alice is a creation of true genius. The imagination, throughout, is of a lofty order, and the snatches of original verse would do honor to any poet living. But the chief merit, after all, is that of the style — about which it is difficult to say too much in the way of praise, [page 252:] although it has, now and then, an odd Gallicism — such as “she lost her head,” meaning she grew crazy. There is much, in the whole manner of this book, which puts me in mind of “Caleb Williams.”

[[XVIII]] [[M181 and M098]]

FOUQUÉ

This book [“Thiodolf, the Icelander, and Aslauga’s Knight”] could never have been popular out of Germany. It is too simple — too direct — too obvious — too bald — not sufficiently complex — to be relished by any people who have thoroughly passed the first (or impulsive) epoch of literary civilization. The Germans have not yet passed this first epoch. It must be remembered that during the whole of the middle ages they lived in utter ignorance of the art of writing. From so total a darkness, of so late a date, they could not, as a nation, have as yet fully emerged into the second or critical epoch. Individual Germans have been critical in the best sense — but the masses are unleavened. Literary Germany thus presents the singular spectacle of the impulsive spirit surrounded by the critical, and, of course, in some measure influenced thereby. England, for example, has advanced far, and France much farther, into the critical epoch; and their effect on the German mind is seen in the wildly anomalous condition of the German literature at large. That this latter will be improved by age, however, should never be maintained. As the impulsive spirit subsides, and the critical uprises, there will appear the polished insipidity of the later England, or that ultimate throe of taste which has found its best exemplification in Sue. At present the German literature resembles no other on the face of the [page 253:] earth; for it is the result of certain conditions which, before this individual instance of their fulfillment, have never been fulfilled. And this anomalous state to which I refer is the source of our anomalous criticism upon what that state produces — is the source of the grossly conflicting opinions about German letters. For my own part, I admit the German vigor, the German directness, boldness, imagination, and some other qualities of impulse, just as I am willing to admit and admire these qualities in the first (or impulsive) epochs of British and French letters. At the German criticism, however, I cannot refrain from laughing all the more heartily, all the more seriously I hear it praised. Not that, in detail, it affects me as an absurdity — but in the adaptation of its details. It abounds in brilliant bubbles of suggestion, but these rise and sink and jostle each other, until the whole vortex of thought in which they originate is one indistinguishable chaos of froth. The German criticism is unsettled, and can only be settled by time. At present it suggests without demonstrating, or convincing, or effecting any definite purpose under the sun. We read it, rub our foreheads, and ask “What then?” I am not ashamed to say that I prefer even Voltaire to Goethe, and hold Macaulay to possess more of the true critical spirit than Augustus William and Frederick Schlegel combined. “Thiodolf” is called by Foqué his “most successful work.” He would not have spoken thus had he considered it his best. It is admirable of its kind — but its kind can never be appreciated by Americans. It will affect them much as would a grasp of the hand from a man of ice. Even the exquisite “Undine” is too chilly for our people, and, generally, for our epoch. We have [page 254:] less imagination and warmer sympathies than the age which preceded us. It would have done Foqué more ready and fuller justice than ours. Has any one remarked the striking similarity in tone between “Undine” and the “Libussa” of Musœus?”

How [[thoroughly — how]] radically — how wonderfully has “Undine” been misunderstood! Beneath its obvious meaning there runs an under-current, simple, quite intelligible, artistically managed, and richly philosophical.

From internal evidence afforded by the book itself, I gather that the author suffered from the ills of a mar-arranged marriage — the bitter reflections thus engendered inducing the fable.

In the contrast between the artless, thoughtless, and careless character of Undine before possessing a soul, and her serious, enwrapt, and anxious yet happy condition after possessing it, — a condition which, with all its multiform disquietudes, she still feels to be preferable to her original state, — Fouqué has beautifully painted the difference between the heart unused to love, and the heart which has received its inspiration.

The jealousies which follow the marriage, arising from the conduct of Bertalda, are but the natural troubles of love; but the persecutions of Kuhleborn and the other water-spirits who take umbrage at Huldbrand’s treatment of his wife, are meant to picture certain difficulties from the interference of relations in conjugal matters — difficulties which the author has himself experienced. The warning of Undine to Huldbrand — “Reproach me not upon the waters, or we part for ever” — is intended to embody the truth that quarrels between man and wife are seldom [page 255:] or never irremediable unless when taking place in the presence of third parties. The second wedding of the knight with his gradual forgetfulness of Undine, and Undine’s intense grief beneath the waters — are dwelt upon so pathetically — so passionately — that there can be no doubt of the author’s personal opinions on the subject of second marriages — no doubt of his deep personal interest in the question. How thrillingly are these few and simple words made to convey his belief that the mere death of a beloved wife does not imply a separation so final or so complete as to justify an union with another!

the “fisherman had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was a doubtful conclusion to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be properly viewed as her death.”

This is where the old man is endeavoring to dissuade the knight from wedding Bertalda.

I cannot say whether the novelty of the conception of “Undine,” or the loftiness and purity of its ideality, or the intensity of its pathos, or the rigor of its simplicity, or the high artistical ability with which all are combined into a well-kept, well-motivirt whole of absolute unity of effect — is the particular chiefly to be admired.

How delicate and graceful are the transitions from subject to subject! — a point severely testing the autorial power — as, when, for the purposes of the story, it becomes necessary that the knight, with Undine and Bertalda, shall proceed down the Danube. An ordinary novelist would have here tormented both himself and his readers, in his search for a sufficient motive for the voyage. But, in a fable such as [page 256:] “Undine,” how all-sufficient — how well in keeping — appears the simple motive assigned! —

“In this grateful union of friendship and affection winter came and passed away; and spring, with its foliage of tender green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded to gladden the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. What wonder, then, that its storks and swallows inspired them also with a disposition to travel?

[[XIX]] [[M051]]

VOLNEY

“That evil predominates over good, becomes evident, when we consider that there can be found no aged person who would be willing to re-live the life he has already lived.” — VOLNEY.

The idea here, is not distinctly made out; for unless through the context, we cannot be sure whether the author means merely this: — that every aged person fancies he might, in a different course of life, have been happier than in the one actually lived, and, for this reason, would not be willing to live his life over again, but some other life; — or, whether the sentiment intended is this: — that if, upon the grave’s brink, the choice were offered any aged person between the expected death and the re-living the old life, that person would prefer to die. The first proposition is, perhaps, true; but the last (which is the one designed) is not only doubtful, in point of mere fact, but is of no effect, even if granted to be true, in sustaining the original proposition — that evil predominates over good. It is assumed that the aged person will not re-live his life, because he knows that its evil predominated over its good. The source of error lies in the word “knows” — in the assumption that we can ever be, [page 257:] really, in possession of the whole knowledge to which allusion is cloudily made. But there is a seeming — a fictitious knowledge; and this verily seeming knowledge it is, of what the life has been, which incapacitates the aged person from deciding the question upon its merits. He blindly deduces a notion of the happiness of the original real life — a notion of its preponderating evil or good — from a consideration of the secondary or supposititious one. In his estimate he merely strikes a balance between events, and leaves quite out of the account that elastic Hope which is the Harbinger and the Eos of all. Man’s real life is happy, chiefly because he is ever expecting that it soon will be so. But, in regarding the supposititious life, we paint to ourselves chill certainties for warm expectations, and grievances quadrupled in being foreseen. But because we cannot avoid doing this — strain our imaginative faculties as we will — because it is so very difficult — so nearly impossible a task, to fancy the known unknown — the done unaccomplished — and because (through our inability to fancy all this) we prefer death to a secondary life — does it, in any manner, follow that the evil of the properly-considered real existence does predominate over the good?

In order that a just estimate be made by Mr. Volney’s “aged person,” and from this estimate a judicious choice: — in order, again, that from this estimate and choice, we deduce any clear comparison of good with evil in human existence, it will be necessary that we obtain the opinion, or “choice,” upon this point, from an aged person who shall be in condition to appreciate, with precision, the hopes he is naturally led to leave out of question, but which reason tells us he would as strongly experience as ever, in the absolute [page 258:] reliving of the life. On the other hand, too, he must be in condition to dismiss from the estimate the fears which he actually feels, and which show him bodily the ills that are to happen, but which fears, again, reason assures us he would not, in the absolute secondary life, encounter. Now what mortal was ever in condition to make these allowances? — to perform impossibilities in giving these considerations their due weight? What mortal, then, was ever in condition to make a well-grounded choice? How, from an ill-grounded one, are we to make deductions which shall guide us aright? How out of error shall we fabricate truth?

[[XX]] [[M094]]

THE LAST PAGE

I have at length attained the last page, which is a thing to thank God for; and all this may be logic, but I am sure it is nothing more. Until I get the means of refutation, however, I must be content to say, with the Jesuits, Le Sueur and Jacquier, that “I acknowledge myself obedient to the decrees of the Pope against the motion of the Earth.”

[[XXI]] [[M097]]

“RHODODAPHNE

“Rhododaphne” is brim-full of music: — e. g.

By living streams, in sylvan shades,

Where wind and wave symphonious make

Rich melody, the youths and maids

No more with choral music wake

Lone Echo from her tangled brake.” [page 259:]

[[XXII]] [[M176]]

SUES “MYSTERIES OF PARIS

I have just finished the “Mysteries of Paris” — a work of unquestionable power — a museum of novel and ingenious incident — a paradox of childish folly and consummate skill. It has this point m common with all the “convulsive” fictions — that the incidents are consequential from the premises, while the premises themselves are laughably incredible. Admitting, for instance, the possibility of such a man as Rodolphe, and of such a state of society as would tolerate his perpetual interference, we have no difficulty in agreeing to admit the possibility of his accomplishing all that is accomplished. Another point which distinguishes the Sue school, is the total want of the ars celare artem. In effect the writer is always saying to the reader, “Now — in one moment — you shall see what you shall see. I am about to produce on you a remarkable impression. Prepare to have your imagination, or your pity, greatly excited.” The wires are not only not concealed, but displayed as things to be admired, equally with the puppets they set in motion. The result is, that in perusing for example, a pathetic chapter in the “Mysteries of Paris” we say to ourselves, without shedding a tear — “Now, here is something which will be sure to move every reader to tears.” The philosophical motives attributed to Sue are absurd in the extreme. His first, and in fact his sole object, is to make an exciting, and therefore saleable book. The cant (implied or direct) about the amelioration of society, etc., is but a very usual trick among authors, whereby they hope to add such a tone of dignity or utilitarianism to their pages as shall gild the pill of their licentiousness. [page 260:] The ruse is even more generally employed by way of engrafting a meaning upon the otherwise unintelligible. In the latter case, however, this ruse is an afterthought, manifested in the shape of a moral, either appended (as in Æsop) or dovetailed into the body of the work, piece by piece, with great care, but never without leaving evidence of its after-insertion.

The translation (by C. H. Town) is very imperfect, and, by a too literal rendering of idioms, contrives to destroy the whole tone of the original. Or, perhaps, I should say a too literal rendering of local peculiarities of phrase. There is one point (never yet, I believe, noticed) which, obviously, should be considered in translation. We should so render the original that the version should impress the people for whom it is intended, just as the original impresses the people for whom it (the original) is intended. Now, if we rigorously translate mere local idiosyncrasies of phrase (to say nothing of idioms) we inevitably distort the author’s designed impression. We are sure to produce a whimsical, at least, if not always a ludicrous, effect — for novelties, in a case of this kind, are incongruities — oddities. A distinction, of course, should be observed between those peculiarities of phrase which appertain to the nation and those which belong to the author himself — for these latter will have a similar effect upon all nations, and should be literally translated. It is merely the general inattention to the principle here proposed, which has given rise to so much international depreciation, if not positive contempt, as regards literature. The English reviews, for example, have abundant allusions to what they call the “frivolousness” of French letters — an idea [page 261:] chiefly derived from the impression made by the French manner derived merely — the manner, again, having in it nothing essentially frivolous, but affecting all foreigners as such (the English especially) through that oddity of which I have already assigned the origin. The French return the compliment, complaining of the British gaucherie in style. The phraseology of every nation has a taint of drollery about it in the ears of every other nation speaking a different tongue. Now, to convey the true spirit of an author, this taint should be corrected in translation. We should pride ourselves less upon literality and more upon dexterity at paraphrase. Is it not clear that, by such dexterity, a translation may be made to convey to a foreigner a juster conception of an original than could the original itself?

The distinction I have made between mere idioms (which, of course, should never be literally rendered) and “local idiosyncrasies of phrase,” may be exemplified by a passage at page 291 of Mr. Town’s translation:

“Never mind! Go in there! You will take the cloak of Calebasse. You will wrap yourself in it,” etc., etc.

These are the words of a lover to his mistress, and are meant kindly, although imperatively. They embody a local pa culiarity — a French peculiarity of phrase, and (to French ears) convey nothing dictatorial. To our own, nevertheless, they sound like the command of a military officer to his subordinate, and thus produce an effect quite different from that intended. The translation, in such case, should be a bold paraphrase. For example: — “I must insist upon your wrapping yourself in the cloak of Calebasse.” [page 262:]

Mr. Town’s version of the “Mysteries of Paris,” however, is not objectionable on the score of excessive literality alone, but abounds in misapprehensions of the author’s meaning. One of the strangest errors occurs at page 368, where we read:

“From a wicked, brutal savage and riotous rascal, he has made me a kind of honest man by saying only two words to me; but these words, ‘voyez vous,’ were like magic.”

Here “voyez vous” are made to be the two magical words spoken; but the translation should run — ”these words, do you see? were like magic.” The actual words described as producing the magical effect are “heart” and “honor.”

Of similar character is a curious mistake at page 245.

“He is a gueux fini and an attack will not save him,” added Nicholas. “A — yes,” said the widow.

Many readers of Mr. Town’s translation have no doubt been puzzled to perceive the force or relevancy of the widow’s “A — yes” in this case. I have not the original before me, but take it for granted that it runs thus, or nearly so: — “Il est un guenx fini et un assaut ne l’intimidera pas.” “Un — oui!dit la Peuve.

It must be observed that, in vivacious French colloquy, the oui seldom implies assent to the letter, but generally to the spirit, of a proposition. Thus a Frenchman usually says “yes” where an Englishman would say “no.” The latter’s reply, for example, to the sentence “An attack will not intimidate him,” would be “No” — that is to say, “I grant you that it would not.” The Frenchman, however, answers [page 263:] “Yes” — meaning, “I agree with what you say — it would not.” Both replies, of  course, reaching the same point, although by opposite routes. With this understanding, it will be seen that the true version of the widow’s “Un — oui!” should be, “One attack, I grant you, might not,” and that this is the version becomes apparent when we read the words immediately following — “but every day — every day it is hell!”

An instance of another class of even more reprehensible blunders, is to be found on page 297, where Bras-Rouge is made to say to a police officer — “No matter; it is not of that I complain; every trade has its disagreements.” Here, no doubt, the French is désagr′emens — inconveniences — disadvantages — unpleasantnesses. Désagrémens conveys disagreements not even so nearly as, in Latin, religio implies religion.

I was not a little surprised, in turning over these pages, to come upon the admirable, thrice admirable story called “Gringalet et Coupe en Deux,” which is related by Pique-Vinaigre to his companions in La Force. Rarely have I read any thing of which the exquisite skill so delighted me. For my soul I could not suggest a fault in it — except, perhaps, that the intention of telling a very pathetic story is a little too transparent.

But I say that I was surprised in coming upon this story — and I was so, because one of its points has been suggested to M. Sue by a tale of my own. Coupe en Deux has an ape remarkable for its size, strength, ferocity, and propensity to imitation. Wishing to commit a murder so cunningly that discovery would be impossible, the master of this animal teaches [page 264:] it to imitate the functions of a barber, and incites it to cut the throat of a child, under the idea that, when the murder is discovered, it will be considered the uninstigated deed of the ape.

On first seeing this, I felt apprehensive that some of my friends would accuse me of plagiarising from it my “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But I soon called to mind that this latter was first published in “Graham’s Magazine” for April, 1841. Some years ago, the “Paris Charivari” copied my story with complimentary comments; objecting, however, to the Rue Morgue on the ground that no such street (to the Charivari’s knowledge) existed in Paris. I do not wish, of course, to look upon M. Sue’s adaptation of my property in any other light than that of a compliment. The similarity may have been entirely accidental.

[[XXIII]] [[M186]]

ANTIGONE

About the “Antigone,” as about all the ancient plays, there seems to me a certain baldness, the result of inexperience in art, but which pedantry would force us to believe the result of a studied and supremely artistic simplicity. Simplicity, indeed, is a very important feature in all true art — but not the simplicity which we see in the Greek drama. That of the Greek sculpture is everything that can be desired, because here the art in itself is simplicity in itself and in its elements. The Greek sculptor chiseled his forms from what he saw before him every day, in a beauty nearer to perfection than any work of any Cleomenes in the world. But in the drama, the direct, straight-forward, un-German Greek had no Nature so immediately presented from which to make [page 265:] copy. He did what he could — but I do not hesitate to say that that was exceedingly little worth. The profound sense of one or two tragic, or rather, melo-dramatic elements (such as the idea of inexorable Destiny) — this sense gleaming at intervals from out the darkness of the ancient stage, serves, in the very imperfection of its development, to show, not the dramatic ability, but the dramatic inability of the ancients. In a word, the simple arts spring into perfection at their origin; the complex as inevitably demand the long and painfully progressive experience of ages. To the Greeks, beyond doubt, their drama seemed perfection — it fully answered, to them, the dramatic end, excitement — and this fact is urged as proof of their drama’s perfection in itself. It need only be said, in reply, that their art and their sense of art were, necessarily, on a level.

[[XXIV]] [[M216]]

JOHN NEAL

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 [page 266:] 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?

[[XXV]] [[M085]]

MALIBRAN

Upon her was lavished the enthusiastic applause of the most correct taste, and of the deepest sensibility. Human triumph, in all that is most exciting and delicious, never went beyond that which she experienced — or never but in the case of Taglioni. For what are the extorted adulations that fall to the lot of the conqueror? — what even are the extensive honors of the popular author — his far-reaching fame — his high influence — or the most devout public appreciation of his works — to that rapturous approbation of the personal woman — that spontaneous, instant, present, and palpable applause — those irrepressible acclamations — those eloquent sighs and tears which the idolized Malibran at once heard, and saw, and deeply felt that she deserved? Her brief career was one gorgeous dream — for even the many sad intervals of her grief were but dust in the balance of her glory. In this book(1) I read much about the causes which curtailed her existence; and there seems to hang around them, as here given, an indistinctness which the fair memorialist tries in vain to illumine. She seems never to approach the full truth. She seems never to reject that the speedy decease was but a condition of [page 267:] the rapturous life. No thinking person, hearing Malibran sing, could have doubted that she would die in the spring of her days. She crowded ages into hours. She left the world at twenty-five, having existed her thousands of years.

[[XXVI]] [[SM002]]

SOUTHEYS “DOCTOR

the “Doctor” has excited great attention in America as well as in England, and has given rise to every variety of conjecture and opinion, not only concerning the author’s individuality, but in relation to the meaning, purpose, and character of the book itself. It is now said to be the work of one author — now of two, three, four, five — as far even as nine or ten. These writers are sometimes thought to have composed the “Doctor” conjointly — sometimes to have written each a portion. These individual portions have even been pointed out by the supremely acute, and the names of their respective fathers assigned. Supposed discrepancies of taste and manner, together with the prodigal introduction of mottoes, and other scraps of erudition (apparently beyond the compass of a single individual’s reading) have given rise to this idea of a multiplicity of writers — among whom are mentioned in turn all the most witty, all the most eccentric, and especially all the most learned of Great Britain. Again — in regard to the nature of the book. It has been called an imitation of Sterne — an august and most profound exemplification, under the garb of eccentricity, of some all — important moral law — a true, under guise of a fictitious, biography — a simple jeu d‘esprit — a mad farrago by a Bedlamite, and a great multiplicity of other equally fine names [page 268:] and hard. Undoubtedly, the best method of arriving at a decision in relation to a work of this nature, is to read it through with attention, and thus see what can be made of it. We have done so, and can make nothing of it, and are therefore clearly of opinion that the Doctor is precisely — nothing. We mean to say that it is nothing better than a hoax.

That any serious truth is meant to be inculcated by a tissue of bizarre and disjointed rhapsodies, whose general meaning no person can fathom, is a notion altogether untenable, unless we suppose the author a mad man. But there are none of the proper evidences of madness in the book — while of mere banter there are instances innumerable. One half, at least, of the entire publication is taken up with palpable quizzes, seasonings in a circle, sentences, like the nonsense verses of Du Bartas, evidently framed to mean nothing, while wearing an air of profound thought, and grotesque speculations in regard to the probable excitement to be created by the book.

It appears to have been written with a sole view (or nearly with the sole view) of exciting inquiry and comment. That this object should be fully accomplished cannot be thought very wonderful, when we consider the excessive trouble taken to accomplish it, by vivid and powerful intellect. That the Doctor is the offspring of such intellect, is proved sufficiently by many passages of the book, where the writer appears to have been led off from his main design. That it is written by more than one man should not be deduced either from the apparent immensity of its erudition, or from discrepancies of style. That man is a desperate mannerist who cannot vary his style ad infinitum; and although the book may have been [page 269:] written by a number of learned bibliophagi, still there is, we think, nothing to be found in the book itself at variance with the possibility of its being written by any one individual of even mediocre reading. Erudition is only certainly known in its total results. The mere grouping together of mottoes from the greatest multiplicity of the rarest works, or even the apparently natural inweaving into any composition, of the sentiments and manner of these works, are attainments within the reach of any well-informed, ingenious and industrious man having access to the great libraries of London. Moreover, while a single individual possessing these requisites and opportunities, might, through a rabid desire of creating a sensation, have written, with some trouble, the Doctor, it is by no means easy to imagine that a plurality of sensible persons could be found willing to embark in such absurdity from a similar, or indeed from any imaginable inducement.

The present edition of the Harpers consists of two volumes in one. Volume one commences with a Prelude of Mottoes occupying two pages. Then follows a Postscript — then a Table of Contents to the first volume, occupying eighteen pages. Volume two has a similar Prelude of Mottoes and Table of Contents. The whole is subdivided into Chapters Ante-Initial, Initial, and Post-Initial, with Inter-Chapters. The pages have now and then a typographical queerity — a monogram, a scrap of grotesque music, old English, etc. Some characters of this latter kind are printed with colored ink in the British edition, which is gotten up with great care. All these oddities are in the manner of Sterne, and some of them are exceedingly well conceived. The work professes to be a Life of one Doctor Daniel Dove [page 270:] and his horse Nobs — but we should put no very great faith in this biography. On the back of the book is a monogram-which appears again once or twice in the text, and whose solution is a fertile source of trouble with all readers. This monogram is a triangular pyramid; and as, in geometry, the solidity of every polyedral body may be computed by dividing the body into pyramids, the pyramid is thus considered as the base or essence of every polyedron. The author then, after his own fashion, may mean to imply that his book is the basis of all solidity or wisdom — or perhaps, since the polyedron is not only a solid, but a solid terminated by plane faces, that the “Doctor” is the very essence of all that spurious wisdom which will terminate in just nothing at all — in a hoax, and a consequent multiplicity of blank visages. The wit and humor of the “Doctor” have seldom been equalled. We cannot think Southey wrote it, but have no idea who did.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 266:]

1  “Memoirs and Letters of Madame Malibran,” by the Countess of Merlin.


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Notes:

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[S:0 - SW, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Marginalia (Part II) (Stedman and Woodberry, 1895)