Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “Marginalia (Part IV),” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Stone and Kimball, vol. VII, 1895, pp. 300-326


[page 300, continued:]

[[XLIII]] [[M141]]


When we attend less to “authority” and more to principles, when we look less at merit and more at demerit, (instead of the converse, as some persons suggest), we shall then be better critics than we are. We must neglect our models and study our capabilities. The mad eulogies on what occasionally has, in letters, been well done, spring from our imperfect comprehension of what it is possible for us to do better. “A man who has never seen the sun,” says Calderon, “cannot be blamed for thinking that no glory can exceed that of the moon; a man who has seen neither moon nor sun, cannot be blamed for expatiating on the incomparable effulgence of the morning star.” Now, it is the business of the critic so to soar that he shall see the sun, even although its orb be far below the ordinary horizon.

[[XLIV]] [[SM021]]


While Defoe would have been fairly entitled to immortality had he never written Robinson Crusoe, yet his many other very excellent writings have nearly faded from our attention, in the superior lustre of the Adventures of the Mariner of York. What better possible species of reputation could the author have desired for that book than the species which it has so long enjoyed? It has become a household thing in [page 301:] nearly every family in Christendom. Yet never was admiration of any workuniversal admiration — more indiscriminately or more inappropriately bestowed. Not one person in ten — nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts — Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest — we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well ourselves. All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Indeed the author of Crusoe must have possessed, above all other faculties, what has been termed the faculty of identification — that dominion exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes, in a very great degree, the power of abstraction; and with these keys we may partially unlock the mystery of that spell which has so long invested the volume before us. But a complete analysis of our interest in it cannot be thus afforded. Defoe is largely indebted to his subject. The idea of man in a state of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was never before so comprehensively carried out. Indeed the frequency of its occurrence to the thoughts of mankind argued the extent of its influence on their sympathies, while the fact of no attempt having been made to give an embodied form to the conception went [page 302:] to prove the difficulty of the undertaking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711, with the powerful impression it then made upon the public mind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both the necessary courage for his work, and entire confidence in its success. How wonderful has been the result!

[[XLV]] [[M131]]


The drama, as the chief of the imitative arts, has a tendency to beget and keep alive in its votaries the imitative propensity. This might be supposed à priori, and experience confirms the supposition. Of all imitators, dramatists are the most perverse, the most unconscionable, or the most unconscious, and have been so time out of mind. Euripides and Sophocles were merely echoes of Æschylus, and not only was Terence Menander and nothing beyond, but of the sole Roman tragedies extant, (the ten attributed to Seneca), nine are on Greek subjects. Here, then, is cause enough for the “decline of the drama,” if we are to believe that the drama has declined. But it has not: on the contrary, during the last fifty years it has materially advanced. All other arts, however, have, in the same interval, advanced at a far greater rate — each very nearly in the direct ratio of its non-imitativeness — painting, for example, least of all — and the effect on the drama is, of course, that of apparent retrogradation.

[[XLVI]] [[SM023]]


The qualities of Heber are well understood. His poetry is of a high order. He is imaginative, glowing, [page 303:] and vigorous, with a skill in the management of his means unsurpassed by that of any writer of his time, but without any high degree of originality. Can there be anything in the nature of a “classical” life at war with novelty per se? At all events, few fine scholars, such as Heber truly was, are original.

[[XLVII]] [[SM024]]


Original characters, so called, can only be critically praised as such, either when presenting qualities known in real life, but never before depicted, (a combination nearly impossible) or when presenting qualities (moral, or physical, or both) which, although unknown, or even known to be hypothetical, are so skilfully adapted to the circumstances which surround them, that our sense of fitness is not offended, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why those things might not have been, which we are still satisfied are not. The latter species of originality appertains to the loftier regions of the Ideal.

[[XLVIII]] [[SM025]]


George Balcombe, we are induced to regard, upon the whole, as the best American novel. There have been few books of its peculiar kind, we think, written in any country, much its superior. Its interest is intense from beginning to end. Talent of a lofty order is evinced in every page of it. Its most distinguishing features are invention, vigor, almost audacity, of thought — great variety of what the German critics term intrigue, and exceeding ingenuity and finish in the adaptation of its component parts. [page 304:] Nothing is wanting to a complete whole, and nothing is out of place, or out of time. Without being chargeable in the least degree with imitation, the novel bears a strong family resemblance to the Caleb Williams of Godwin. Thinking thus highly of George Balcombe, we still do not wish to be understood as ranking it with the more brilliant fictions of some of the living novelists of Great Britain. In regard to the authorship of the book, some little conversation has occurred, and the matter is still considered a secret. But why so? — or rather, how so? The mind of the chief personage of the story, is the transcript of a mind familiar to us — an unintentional transcript, let us grant — but still one not to be mistaken. George Balcombe thinks, speaks, and acts, as no person we are convinced, but Judge Beverley Tucker, ever precisely thought, spoke, or acted before.

[[XLIX]] [[M124 and M063]]


Mill says that he has “demonstrated” his propositions. Just in the same way Anaxagoras demonstrated snow to be black, (which, perhaps, it is, if we could see the thing in the proper light), and just in the same way the French advocate, Linguet, with Hippocrates in his hand, demonstrated bread to be a slow poison. The worst of the matter is that propositions such as these seldom stay demonstrated long enough to be thoroughly understood.

The a priori reasoners upon government are, of all plausible people, the most preposterous. They only argue too cleverly to permit my thinking them silly enough to be themselves deceived by their own arguments. [page 305:] Yet even this is possible; for there is something in the vanity of logic which addles a man’s brains. Your true logician gets, in time, to be logicalized, and then, so far as regards himself, the universe is one word. A thing, for him, no longer exists. He deposits upon a sheet of paper a certain assemblage of syllables, and fancies that their meaning is riveted by the act of deposition. I am serious in the opinion that some such process of thought passes through the mind of the “practiced” logician, as he makes note of the thesis proposed. He is not aware that he thinks in this way — but, unwittingly, he so thinks. The syllables deposited acquire, in his view, a new character. While afloat in his brain, he might have been brought to admit the possibility that these syllables were variable exponents of various phases of thought; but he will not admit this if he once gets them upon the paper.

In a single page of “Mill,” I find the word “force” employed four times; and each employment varies the idea. The fact is that à priori argument is much worse than useless except in the mathematical sciences, where it is possible to obtain precise meanings. If there is any one subject in the world to which it is utterly and radically inapplicable, that subject is Government. The identical arguments used to sustain Mr. Bentham’s positions, might, with little exercise of ingenuity, be made to overthrow them; and, by ringing small changes on the words “leg-of-mutton,” and “turnip” (changes so gradual as to escape detection), I could “demonstrate” that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be a leg-of-mutton. [page 306:]

[[L]] [[M196 and [[M047]]


Among his eidola of the den, the tribe, the forum, the theatre, etc., Bacon might well have placed the great eidolon of the parlor (or of the wit, as I have termed it in one of the previous Marginalia) — the idol whose worship blinds man to truth by dazzling him with the apposite. But what title could have been invented for that idol which has propagated, perhaps, more of gross error than all combined? — the one, I mean, which demands from its votaries that they reciprocate cause and effect — reason in a circle — lift themselves from the ground by pulling up their pantaloons — and carry themselves on their own heads, in hand-baskets, from Beersheba to Dan.

All — absolutely all the argumentation which I have seen on the nature of the soul, or of the Diety, seems to me nothing but worship of this unnameable idol. Pour savoir ce qu’est Dien, says Bielfeld, although nobody listens to the solemn truth, il faut être Dieu même — and to reason about the reason is of all things the most unreasonable. At least, he alone is fit to discuss the topic who perceives at a glance the insanity of its discussion.

We might give two plausible derivations of the epithet “weeping” as applied to the willow. We might say that the word has its origin in the pendulous character of the long branches, which suggest the idea of water dripping; or we might assert that the term comes from a fact in the Natural History of the tree. It has a vast insensible perspiration, which, upon sudden cold, condenses, and sometimes is precipitated in a shower. Now, one might very accurately [page 307:] determine the bias and value of a man’s powers of causality, by observing which of these two derivations he would adopt. The former is, beyond question, the true; and, for this reason — that common or vulgar epithets are universally suggested by common or immediately obvious things, without strict regard of any exactitude in application: — but the latter would be greedily seized by nine philologists out of ten, for no better cause than its epigrammatism — than the pointedness with which the singular fact seems to touch the occasion. Here, then, is a subtle source of error which Lord Bacon has neglected. It is an Idol of the Wit.

[[LI]] [[M109]]


The title of this book deceives us. It is by no means “talk” as men understand it — not that true talk of which Boswell has been the best historiographer. In a word it is not gossip which has been never better defined than by Basil, who calls it “talk for talk’s sake,” nor more thoroughly comprehended than by Horace Walpole and Mary Wortley Montague, who made it a profession and a purpose. Embracing all things, it has neither beginning, middle, nor end. Thus of the gossiper it was not properly said that “he commences his discourse by jumping in medias res.” For, clearly, your gossiper commences not at all. He is begun. He is already begun. He is always begun. In the matter of end he is indeterminate. And by these extremes shall ye know him to be of the Cæsars — porphyrogenitus — of the right vein — of the true blood — of the blue blood — of the sangre azul. As for laws, he is cognizant of but one, the invariable [page 308:] absence of all. And for his road, were it as straight as the Appia and as broad as that “which leadeth to destruction,” nevertheless would he be malcontent without a frequent hop-skip-and-jump, over the hedges, into the tempting pastures of digression beyond. Such is the gossiper, and of such alone is the true talk. But when Coleridge asked Lamb if he had ever heard him preach, the answer was quite happy — “I have never heard you do anything else.” The truth is that “Table Discourse” might have answered as a title to this book; but its character can be fully conveyed only in “Post-Prandian Sub-Sermons,” or “Three-Bottle Sermonoids.”

[[LII]] [[SM003]]


It cannot, we think, be a matter of doubt with any reflecting mind, that at least one-third of the reverence, or of the affection, with which we regard the elder poets of Great Britain, should be credited to what is, in itself, a thing apart from poetry — we mean to the simple love of the antique — and that again a third of even the proper poetic sentiment inspired by these writings should be ascribed to a fact which, while it has a strict connection with poetry in the abstract, and also with the particular poems in question, must not be looked upon as a merit appertaining to the writers of the poems. Almost every devout reader of the old English bards, if demanded his opinion of their productions, would mention vaguely, yet with perfect sincerity, a sense of dreamy, wild, indefinite, and, he would perhaps say, undefinable delight. Upon being required to point out the source of this so shadowy pleasure, he would be apt to speak of the quaint in phraseology and of the grotesque in rhythm. And [page 309:] this quaintness and grotesqueness are, as we have elsewhere endeavored to show, very powerful, and, if well managed, very admissible adjuncts to ideality. But in the present instance they arise independently of the author’s will, and are matters altogether apart from his intention.

[[LIII]] [[M056]]


Among the moralists who keep themselves erect by the perpetual swallowing of pokers, it is the fashion to decry the “fashionable” novels. These works have their demerits; but a vast influence which they exert for an undeniable good, has never yet been duly considered.

“Ingenuos didicisse fideliter libros,

emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.”

Now, the fashionable novels are just the books which most do circulate among the class unfashionable; and their effect in softening the worst callosities — in smoothing the most disgusting asperities of vulgarism, is prodigious. With the herd, to admire and to attempt imitation are the same thing. What if, in this case, the manners imitated are frippery; better frippery than brutality — and, after all, there is little danger that the intrinsic value of the sturdiest iron will be impaired by a coating of even the most diaphanous gilt.

[[LIV]] [[M044]]


I am not sure that Tennyson is not the greatest of poets. The uncertainty attending the public conception of the term “poet” alone prevents me from demonstrating that he is. Other bards produce effects [page 310:] which are, now and then, otherwise produced than by what we call poems, but Tennyson an effect which only a poem does. His alone are idiosyncratic poems. By the enjoyment or non-enjoyment of the “Morte D’Arthur,” or of the “Ænone,” I would test any one’s idea sense.

There are passages in his works which rivet a conviction I had long entertained, that the indefinite is an element in the true ποιησις. Why do some persons fatigue themselves in attempts to unravel such phantasy-pieces as the “Lady of Shalott?” As well unweave the “ventum textilem.” If the author did not deliberately propose to himself a suggestive indefinitiveness of meaning, with the view of bringing about a definitiveness of vague and therefore of spiritual effects — this, at least, arose from the silent analytical promptings of that poetic genius which, in its supreme development, embodies all orders of intellectual capacity.

I know that indefinitiveness is an element of the true music — I mean of the true musical expression. Give to it any undue decision — imbue it with any very determinate tone — and you deprive it, at once, of its ethereal, its ideal, its intrinsic and essential character. You dispel its luxury of dream. You dissolve the atmosphere of the mystic upon which it floats. You exhaust it of its breath of fäery. It now becomes a tangible and easy [[easily]] appreciable idea — a thing of the earth, earthy. It has not, indeed, lost its power to please, but all which I consider the distinctiveness of that power. And to the uncultivated talent, or to the unimaginative apprehension, this deprivation of its most delicate grace will be, not unfrequently, a recommendation. A determinateness of expression is sought — and often by composers who should know better — is sought as a beauty rather than rejected as a blemish. Thus we have, even from high authorities, attempts at absolute imitation in music. Who can forget the sillinesses of the “Battle of Prague?” What man of taste but must laugh at the interminable drums, trumpets, blunderbusses, and thunder? “Vocal music,” says L’Abbate Gravina, who would have said the same thing of instrumental, “ought to imitate the natural language of the human feelings and passions, rather than the warblings of Canary birds, which our singers, now-a-days, affect so vastly to mimic with their quaverings and boasted cadences.” This is true only so far as the “rather” is concerned. If any music must imitate anything, it were assuredly better to limit the imitation as Gravina suggests.

Tennyson’s shorter pieces abound in minute rhythmical lapses sufficient to assure me that — in common with all poets living or dead — he has neglected to make precise investigation of the principles of metre; but, on the other hand, so perfect is his rhythmical instinct in general, that, like the present Viscount Canterbury, he seems to see with his ear.

[[LV]] [[M150]]


Some Frenchman — possibly Montaigne — says: “People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think, except when I sit down to write.” It is this never thinking, unless when we sit down to write, which is the cause of so much indifferent composition. But perhaps there is something more involved in the Frenchman’s observation than meets the eye. It is certain that the mere act of inditing, tends, in a great degree, to the logicalization of thought. Whenever, [page 311:] on account of its vagueness, I am dissatisfied with a conception of the brain, I resort forthwith to the pen, for the purpose of obtaining, through its aid, the necessary form, consequence and precision.

How very commonly we hear it remarked, that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it: — as I have before observed, the thought is logicalized by the effort at (written) expression. There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity — when the bodily and mental health are in perfection — and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time — yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows;” and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance. [page 313:] These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure, moderates or tranquilizes the ecstasy — I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy itself) that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature — is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion — if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition — by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness — for in these fancies — let me now term them psychal impressions — there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.

Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words, that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe. In experiments with this end in view, I have proceeded so far as, first, to control (when the bodily and mental health are good) the existence of the condition: — that is to say, I can now (unless when ill) be sure that the condition will supervene, if I so wish it, at the point of time already described: — of its supervention, until lately, I could never be certain, even under the most favorable circumstances. I mean to say, merely, that now I can be sure, when all circumstances are favorable, of the supervention of the condition, and feel even the capacity of inducing or compelling it: — the favorable [page 314:] circumstances, however, are not the less rare — else had I compelled, already, the heaven into the earth.

I have proceeded so far, secondly, as to prevent the lapse from the point of which I speak — the point of blending between wakefulness and sleep — as to prevent at will, I say, the lapse from this border-ground into the dominion of sleep. Not that I can continue the condition — not that I can render the point more than a point — but that I can startle myself from the point into wakefulness — and thus transfer the point itself into the realm of Memory — convey its impressions, or more properly their recollections, to a situation where (although still for a very brief period) I can survey them with the eye of analysis. For these reasons — that is to say, because I have been enabled to accomplish thus much — I do not altogether despair of embodying in words at least enough of the fancies in question to convey, to certain classes of intellect, a shadowy conception of their character. In saying this I am not to be understood as supposing that the fancies, or psychal impressions, to which I allude, are confined to my individual self — are not, in a word, common to all mankind — for on this point it is quite impossible that I should form an opinion — but nothing can be more certain than that even a partial record of the impressions would startle the universal intellect of mankind, by the supremeness of the novelty of the material employed, and of its consequent suggestions. In a word — should I ever write a paper on this topic, the world will be compelled to acknowledge that, at last, I have done an original thing. [page 315:]

[[LVI]] [[M207]]


Here is a good idea for a Magazine paper: — let somebody “work it up:” — A flippant pretender to universal acquirement — a would-be Crichton — engrosses, for an hour or two perhaps, the attention of a large company — most of whom are profoundly impressed by his knowledge. He is very witty, in especial, at the expense of a modest young gentleman, who ventures to make no reply, and who, finally, leaves the room as if overwhelmed with confusion; — the Crichton greeting his exit with a laugh. Presently he returns, followed by a footman carrying an armfull of books. These are deposited on the table. The young gentleman, now, referring to some pencilled notes which he had been secretly taking during the Crichton’s display of erudition, pins the latter to his statements, each by each, and refutes them all in turn, by reference to the very authorities cited by the egotist himself — whose ignorance at all points is thus made apparent.

[[LVII]] [[M199]]


After reading all that has been written, and after thinking all that can be thought, on the topics of God and the soul, the man who has a right to say that he thinks at all, will find himself face to face with the conclusion that, on these topics, the most profound thought is that which can be the least easily distinguished from the most superficial sentiment.

[[LVIII]] [[M262 and M267]]


“If, in any point,” says Lord Bacon, “I have receded from what is commonly received, it hath been [page 316:] for the purpose of proceeding melius and not in aliud” — but the character assumed, in general, by modern “Reform” is, simply, that of Opposition.

The modern reformist Philosophy which annihilates the individual by way of aiding the mass; and the late reformist Legislation, which prohibits pleasure with the view of advancing happiness, seem to be chips of that old block of a French feudal law which, to prevent young partridges from being disturbed, imposed penalites upon hoeing and weeding.

[[LIX]] [[M256]]


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

[[LX]] [[M255]]


The Carlyle-ists should adopt, as a motto, the inscription on the old bell from whose metal was cast the Great Tom, of Oxford: — “In Thomaœ laude resono ‘Bim! Bom!’ sine fraude:” — and “Bim! Bom,” in such case, would be a marvellous “echo of sound to sense.” [page 317:]

[[LXI]] [[M254]]


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

[[LXII]] [[M253]]


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

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

[[LXIII]] [[M249]]


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

[[LXIV]] [[M250]]


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

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

“Si proficere cupis,” says the great African bishop, [page 318:]primo id verum puta quod sana mens omnium hominum attestatur.”


“Who shall decide where Doctors disagree?”

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

[[LXV]] [[M252]]


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

[[LXVI]] [[M154]]


Brown in his “Amusements,” speaks of having transfused the blood of an ass into the veins of an astrological quack — and there can be no doubt that one of Hague’s progenitors was the man.

[[LXVII]] [[M275]]


The vox populi, so much talked about to so little purpose, is, possibly, that very vox et preterea nihil which the countryman, in Catullus, mistook for a nightingale.

[[LXVIII]] [[M270]]


In examining trivial details, we are apt to overlook essential generalities. Thus M——, in making a to-do about the “typographical mistakes” in his book, has permitted the printer to escape a scolding which [page 319:] he did richly deserve — a scolding for a “typographical mistake” of really vital importance — the mistake of having printed the book at all.

[[LXIX]] [[M274]]


It has been well said of the French orator, Dupin, that “he spoke, as nobody else, the language of every body;” and thus his manner seems to be exactly conversed in that of the Frogpondian Euphuists, who, on account of the familiar tone in which they lisp their outré phrases, may be said to speak, as every body, the language of nobody — that is to say, a language emphatically their own.

[[LXX]] [[M271]]


Mozart declared, on his death-bed, that he “began to see what may be done in music;” and it is to be hoped that DeMeyer and the rest of the spasmodists will, eventually, begin to understand what may not be done in this particular branch of the Fine Arts.

[[LXXI]] [[M193]]


“All in a hot and copper sky

The bloody sun at noon

Just up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the moon.”


Is it possible that the poet did not know the apparent diameter of the moon to be greater than that of the sun?

[[LXXII]] [[M076]]

“CAMOËNS” — GENOA — 1798

Here is an edition, which, so far as microscopical excellence and absolute accuracy of typography are [page 320:] concerned, might well be prefaced with the phrase of the Koran — “There is no error in this book.” We cannot call a single inverted o an error — can we? But I am really as glad of having found that inverted o, as ever was a Columbus or an Archimedes. What, after all, are continents discovered, or silversmiths exposed? Give us a good o turned upside-down, and a whole herd of bibliomanic Arguses overlooking it for years!

[[LXXIII]] [[M081]]


At Ermenonville, too, there is a striking instance of the Gallic rhythm with which a Frenchman regards the English verse. There Gerardin has the following inscription to the memory of Shenstone:

This plain stone

To William Shenstone.

In his writings he displayed

A mind natural;

At Leasowes he laid

Arcadian greens rural.

There are few Parisians, speaking English, who would find anything particularly the matter with this epitaph.

[[LXXIV]] [[M048]]


I believe that odors have an altogether idiosyncratic force, in affecting us through association; a force differing essentially from that of objects addressing the touch, the taste, the sight, or the hearing.

[[LXXV]] [[M211]]


I cannot say that I ever fairly comprehended the force of the term “insult,” until I was given to understand, [page 321:] one day, by a member of the “North American Review” clique, that this journal was “not only willing but anxious to render me that justice which had been already rendered me by the ‘Revue Francaise’ and the ‘Revue des Deux Mondes’ ” — but was “restrained from so doing” by my “invincible spirit of antagonism.” I wish the “North American Review” to express no opinion of me whatever — for I have none of it. In the mean time, as I see no motto on its title-page, let me recommend it one from Sterne’s “Letter from France.” Here it is: — “As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of asses on the top of one of the mountains — how they viewed and reviewed us!”

[[LXXVI]] [[M054]]


Von Raumer says that Enslen, a German optician, conceived the idea of throwing a shadowy figure, by optical means, into the chair of Banquo; and that the thing was readily done. Intense effect was produced; and I do not doubt that an American audience might be electrified by the feat. But our managers not only have no invention of their own, but no energy to avail themselves of that of others.

[[LXXVII]] [[M289]]


The next work of Carlyle will be entitled “Bow-Wow,” and the title-page will have a motto from the opening chapter of the Koran: “There is no error in this Book.”

[[LXXVIII]] [[M265]]


When —— and —— pavoneggiarsi about the celebrated personages whom they have “seen” in [page 322:] their travels, we shall not be far wrong in inferring that these celebrated personages were seen έκάσ — as Pindar says he “saw” Archilochus, who died ages before the former was born.

[[LXXIX]] [[M268]]


I cannot help thinking that romance-writers, in general, might, now and then, find their account in taking a hint from the Chinese, who, in spite of building their houses downwards, have still sense enough to begin their books at the end.

[[LXXX]] [[M227]]


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

[[LXXXI]] [[M236]]


I have now before me a book in which the most noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which “Monarch” and “King” are printed with a capital M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been lately presented at Court. He will employ a small g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God. [page 323:]

[[LXXXII]] [[M234]]


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

[[LXXXIII]] [[M246]]


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

Si demain, oubliant d’ éclore,

Le jour manquait, eh bien! demain

Quelque fou trouverait encore

Un flambeau pour le genre humain.

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

[[LXXXIV]] [[M229]]


“He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland in his “Peregrinus Proteus,” “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man.” The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature, we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out. [page 324:]

[[LXXXV]] [[M241]]


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

[[LXXXVI]] [[M245]]


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

[[LXXXVII]] [[M244]]


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

[[LXXXVIII]] [[M231]]


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

[[LXXXIX]] [[M233]]


Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least the [page 325:] perfection of “respectability” in good earnest. On the other hand, accuse an honorable man, too pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him with a perverse ambition to show you that you are not altogether in the wrong.

[[XC]] [[M228]]


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

[[XCI]] [[M087]]


This reasoning is about as convincing as would be that of a traveller who, going from Maryland to New York without entering Pennsylvania, should advance this feat as an argument against Leibnitz’ Law of Continuity — according to which nothing passes from one state to another without passing through all the intermediate states.

[[XCII]] [[M095]]


How overpowering a style is that of Curran! I use “overpowering” in the sense of the English exquisite. I can imagine nothing more distressing than the extent of his eloquence.

[[XCIII]] [[M070]]


It is the curse of a certain order of mind, that it can never rest satisfied with the consciousness of its ability to do a thing. Still less is it content with doing it. It must both know and show how it was done. [page 326:]

[[XCIV]] [[M069]]


Not so: — A gentleman, with a pug nose is a contradiction in terms. — “Who can live idly and without manual labour, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he alone should be called master and be taken for a gentleman.” — Sir Thomas Smith’s “Commonwealth of England.”

[[XCV]] [[M071]]


Here is something at which I find it impossible not to laugh; and yet, I laugh without knowing why. That incongruity is the principle of all non-convulsive laughter, is to my mind as clearly demonstrated as any problem in the “Principia Mathematica;” but here I cannot trace the incongruous. It is there, I know. Still I do not see it. In the mean time let me laugh.

[[XCVI]] [[M159]]


“So violent was the state of parties in England, that I was assured by several that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward and Pope a fool.” — Voltaire.

Both propositions have since been very seriously entertained, quite independently of all party-feeling. That Pope was a fool, indeed, seems to be an established point, at present, with the Crazy-ites — what else shall I call them?

[[XCVII]] [[M163]]


I never read a personally abusive paragraph in the newspapers, without calling to mind the pertinent query propounded by Johnson to Goldsmith: — “My dear Doctor, what harm does it do a man to call him Holofernes?”





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