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more ardent in his theories; and these latter are
neither few nor commonplace. He is a Mesmerist and
a Swedenborgian ; has lately been engaged in editing
Swedenborg's works, publishing them in numbers. He


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converses with fervor, and often with eloquence. Very
probably he will establish an independent church.

He is one of the most amiable men in the
world, universally respected and beloved. His frank,
unpretending simplicity of demeanor is especially

In person he is tall, nearly six feet, and spare, with
large bones. His countenance expresses rather be
nevolence and profound earnestness than high intelli
gence. The eyes are piercing; the other features,
in general, massive. The forehead, phrenologically,
indicates causality and comparison, with deficient
ideality, the organization which induces strict logi
cality from insufficient premises. He walks with a
slouching gait and with an air of abstraction. His
dress is exceedingly plain. In respect to the arrange
ment about his study, he has many of the Maglia-
bechian habits. He is, perhaps, fifty-five years of
age, and seems to enjoy good health.


Mr. Colton is noted as the author of Tecumseh,
and as the originator and editor of The American Re>*
view, a Whig magazine of the higher (that is to say,
of the five-dollar) class. I must not be understood
as meaning any disrespect to the work. It is, in my
opinion, by far the best of its order in this country,


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and is supported in the way of contribution by many
of the very noblest intellects. Mr. Colton, if in
nothing else, has shown himself a man of genius in
his successful establishment of the magazine within
so brief a period. It is now commencing its
second year, and I can say, from my own per
sonal knowledge, that its circulation exceeds two
thousand; it is probably about two thousand
five hundred. So marked and immediate a success
has never been attained by any of our five-dollar
magazines, with the exception of The Southern Literary
Messenger/ which, in the course of nineteen months
(subsequent to the seventh from its commencement),
attained a circulation of rather more than five thou

I cannot conscientiously call Mr. Colton a good
editor, although I think that he will finally be so. He
improves wonderfully with experience. His present
defects are timidity and a lurking taint of partiality,
amounting to positive prejudice (in the vulgar sense)
for the literature of the Puritans. I do not think,
however, that he is at all aware of such prepossession.
His taste is rather unexceptionable than positively
good. He has not, perhaps, sufficient fire within him
self to appreciate it in others. Nevertheless, he en
deavors to do so, and in this endeavor is not inapt
to take opinions at second hand, to adopt, I mean, the
opinions of others. He is nervous, and a very trifling


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difficulty disconcerts him, without getting the better
of a sort of dogged perseverance, which will make a
thoroughly successful man of him in the end. He is
(classically) well educated.

As a poet he has done better things than Tccuinsch,
in whose length he has committed a radical and irre
parable error, sufficient in itself to destroy a far better
book. Some portions of it are truly poetical; very
many portions belong to a high order of eloquence ; it
is invariably well versified, and has no glaring defects,
but, upon the whole, is insufferably tedious. Some of
the author's shorter compositions, published anony
mously in his magazine, have afforded indications
even of genius.

Mr. Colton is marked in his personal appearance.
He is probably not more than thirty, but an air of
constant thought (with a pair of spectacles) causes
him to seem somewhat older. He is about five feet
eight or nine in height, and fairly proportioned,
neither stout nor thin. His forehead is quite intellec
tual. His mouth has a peculiar expression difficult
to describe. Hair light and generally in disorder.
He converses fluently, and, upon the whole, well, but
grandiloquently, and with a tone half tragical, half

In character he is in the highest degree estimable,
a most sincere, high-minded, and altogether honorable
man. He is unmarried.

VOL. VIII. 21. -321

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Whatever may be thought of Mr. Willis's talents,
there can be no doubt of the fact that, both as an
author and as a man, he has made a good deal of
noise in the world at least for an American. His
literary life, in especial, has been one continual
emeute / but then his literary character has been
modified or impelled in a very remarkable degree by
his personal one. His success (for in point of fame,
if of nothing else, he has certainly been successful)
is to be attributed, one third to his mental ability
and two thirds to his physical temperament, the
latter goading him into the accomplishment of
what the former merely gave him the means of

At a very early age Mr. Willis seems to have arrived
at an understanding that, in a republic such as ours,
the mere man of letters must ever be a cipher, and
endeavored, accordingly, to unite the eclat of the lit*
terateur with that of the man of fashion or of society.
He " pushed himself," went much into the world,
made friends with the gentler sex, " delivered "
poetical addresses, wrote " Scriptural " poems, trav
elled, sought the intimacy of noted women, and got
into quarrels with notorious men. All these things
served his purpose, if, indeed, I am right in supposing
that he had any purpose at all. It is quite probable


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that, as before hinted, he acted only in accordance
with his physical temperament; but, be this as it
may, his personal greatly advanced, if it did not alto
gether establish, his literary fame. I have often care
fully considered whether, without the physique of
which I speak, there is that in the absolute morale
of Mr. Willis which would have earned him reputa
tion as a man of letters, and my conclusion is, that
he could not have failed to become noted in some
degree under almost any circumstances, but that about
two thirds (as above stated) of his appreciation by
the public should be attributed to those adventures
which grew immediately out of his animal constitu

He received what is usually regarded as a " good
education," that is to say, he graduated at college;
but his education, in the path he pursued, was worth
to him, on account of his extraordinary savoir faire t
fully twice as much as would have been its value in
any common case. No man's knowledge is more
available, no man has exhibited greater tact in the
seemingly casual display of his wares. With him, at
least, a little learning is no dangerous thing. He
possessed at one time, I believe, the average quan
tum of American collegiate lore : a " little Latin and
less Greek," a smattering of physical and metaphysical
science, and (I should judge) a very little of the mathe
matics; but all this must be considered as mere guess


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on my part. Mr. Willis speaks French with some
fluency, and Italian not quite so well.

Within the ordinary range of belles-lettres author
ship, he has evinced much versatility. If called on
to designate him by any general literary title, I might
term him a magazinist, for his compositions have
invariably the species of effect, with the brevity, which
the magazine demands. We may view him as a para-
graphist, an essayist, or rather " sketcher," a tale
writer, and a poet.

In the first capacity he fails. His points, however
good, when deliberately wrought, are too recherches
to be put hurriedly before the public eye. Mr. W.
has by no means the readiness which the editing a
newspaper demands. He composes (as did Addison,
and as do many of the most brilliant and seem
ingly dashing writers of the present day) with great
labor and frequent erasure and interlineation. His
MSS., in this regard, present a very singular appear
ance, and indicate the vacillation which is, perhaps,
the leading trait of his character. A newspaper, too,
in its longer articles, its " leaders," very frequently de
mands argumentation, and here Mr. W. is remarkably
out of his element. His exuberant fancy leads him
over hedge and ditch, anywhere from the main road,
and, besides, he is far too readily self-dispossessed.
With time at command, however, his great tact stands
him instead of all argumentative power, and enables

3 2 4

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him to overthrow an antagonist without permitting
the latter to see how he is overthrown. A fine ex
ample of this " management " is to be found in Mr.
W.'s reply to a very inconsiderate attack upon his
social standing, made by one of the editors of the
New York Courier and Inquirer, I have always
regarded this reply as the highest evidence of its
author's ability, as a masterpiece of ingenuity, if
not of absolute genius. The skill of the whole lay
in this, that without troubling himself to refute the
charges themselves, brought against him by Mr. Ray
mond, he put forth his strength in rendering them
null, to all intents and purposes, by obliterating, in
cidentally and without letting his design be perceived,
all the impression these charges were calculated to
convey. But this reply can be called a newspaper
article only on the ground of its having appeared in a

As a writer of " sketches," properly so called, Mr.
Willis is unequalled. Sketches, especially of society,
are his forte, and they are so for no other reason than
that they afford him the best opportunity of intro
ducing the personal Willis; or, more distinctly, be
cause this species of composition is most susceptible of
impression from his personal character. The degage
tone of this kind of writing, too, best admits and
encourages that fancy which Mr. W. possesses in the
most extraordinary degree; it is in fancy that he


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reigns supreme ; this, more than any one other quality,
and, indeed, more than all his other literary qualities
combined, has made him what he is. It is this which
gives him the originality, the freshness, the point, the
piquancy, which appear to be the immediate, but which
are, in fact, the mediate, sources of his popularity. 1

In tales (written with deliberation for the magazines)
he has shown greater constructiveness than I should
have given him credit for had I not read his composi-

1 As, by metaphysicians and in ordinary discourse, the word " fancy " is
used with very little determinateness of meaning, I may be pardoned for
repeating here what I have elsewhere said on this topic. I shall thus be
saved much misapprehension in regard to the term one which will neces
sarily be often employed in the course of this series.

" Fancy," says the author of Aids to Reflection (who aided reflection to
much better purpose in his Genevieve), " fancy combines, imagination
creates." This was intended and has been received as a distinction, but it is a
distinction without a difference without a difference even of degree. The
fancy as nearly creates as the imagination, and neither at all. Novel concep
tions are merely unusual combinations. The mind of man can imagine
nothing which does not really exist; if it could, it would create not only
ideally, but substantially, as do the thoughts of God. It may be said, " We
imagine a griffin, yet a griffin does not exist." Not the griffin, certainly, but
its component parts. It is no more than a collation of known limbs, features,
qualities. Thus with all which claims to be new, which appears to be a crea
tion of the intellect all is re-soluble into the old. The wildest effort of the
mind cannot stand the test of this analysis.

Imagination, fancy, fantasy, and humor have in common the elements
combination and novelty. The imagination is the first artist of the four.
From novel arrangements of old forms which present themselves to it, it se
lects such only as are harmonious; the result, of course, is beauty itself
using the word in its most extended sense and as inclusive of the sublime.
The pure imagination chooses, from either beauty or deformity, only the most
combinable things hitherto uncombined, the compound, as a general rule,
partaking in character of sublimity or beauty in the ratio of the respective
sublimity or beauty of the things combined, which are themselves still to be
considered as atomic, that is to say, as previous combinations. But, as
often analogously happens in physical chemistry, so not unfrequently does it
occur in this chemistry of the intellect, that the admixture of two elements
will result in a something that shall have nothing of the quality of one of them,
or even nothing of the qualities of either. The range of imagination is thus


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tions of this order, for in this faculty all his other
works indicate a singular deficiency. The chief
charm even of these tales, however, is still referable
to fancy.

As a poet, Mr. Willis is not entitled, I think, to so
high a rank as he may justly claim through his prose ;
and this for the reason that, although fancy is not in
consistent with any of the demands of those classes
of prose composition which he has attempted, and,

unlimited. Its materials extend throughout the universe. Even out of de
formities it fabricates that beauty which is at once its sole object and its in
evitable test. But, in general, the richness of the matters combined, the
facility of discovering combinable novelties worth combining, and the absolute
" chemical combination " of the completed mass, are the particulars to be
regarded in our estimate of imagination. It is this thorough harmony of an
imaginative work which so often causes it to be undervalued by the undis-
criminating, through the character of obviousness which is superinduced.
We are apt to find ourselves asking why it is that these combinations have
never been imagined before.

Now, when this question does not occur, when the harmony of the com
bination is comparatively neglected, and when, in addition to the element of
novelty, there is introduced the sub-element of unexpectedness when, for
example, matters are brought into combination which not only have never
been combined, but whose combination strikes us as a difficulty happily over
come, the result then appertains to the fancy, and is, to the majority of man
kind, more grateful than the purely harmonious one; although, absolutely,
it is less beautiful (or grand) for the reason that it is less harmonious.

Carrying its errors into excess for, however enticing, they are errors still,
or nature lies fancy is at length found infringing upon the province of fan
tasy. The votaries of this latter delight not only in novelty and unexpected
ness of combination, but in the avoidance of proportion. The result is,
therefore, abnormal, and, to a healthy mind, affords less of pleasure through
its novelty than of pain through its incoherence. When, proceeding a step
farther, however, fancy seeks not merely disproportionate but incongruous or
antagonistic elements, the effect is rendered more pleasurable by its greater
positiveness, there is a merry effort of truth to shake from her that which is no
property of hers, and we laugh outright in recognizing humor.

The four faculties in question seem to me all of their class ; but when either
fancy or humor is expressed to gain an end, is pointed at a purpose, whenever
either becomes objective in place of subjective, then it becomes, also, pure wit
or sarcasm, just as the purpose is benevolent or malevolent


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indeed, is a vital element of most of them, still it is
at war (as will be understood from what I have said
in the foot-note) with that purity and perfection of
beauty which are the soul of the poem proper. I
wish to be understood as saying this generally of our
author's poems. In some instances, seeming to feel
the truth of my proposition (that fancy should have
no place in the loftier poesy), he has denied it a place,
as in Melanie and his Scriptural pieces; but, unfor
tunately, he has been unable to supply the void with
the true imagination, and these poems consequently
are deficient in vigor, in stamen. The Scriptural pieces
are quite " correct," as the French have it, and are
much admired by a certain set of readers, who judge
of a poem, not by its effect on themselves, but by the
effect which they imagine it might have upon them
selves were they not unhappily soulless, and by the
effect which they take it for granted it does have upon
others. It cannot be denied, however, that these
pieces are, in general, tame, or indebted for what
force they possess to the Scriptural passages of which
they are merely paraphrastic. I quote what, in my
own opinion, and in that of nearly all my friends, is
really the truest poem ever written by Mr. Willis.

The shadows lay along Broadway,

'T was near the twilight tide,
And slowly there a lady fair

Was walking in her pride.

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Alone walked she, yet viewlessly
Walked spirits at her side.

Peace charmed the street beneath her feet,

And honor charmed the air,
And all astir looked kind on her

And called her good as fair ;
For all God ever gave to her

She kept with chary care.

She kept with care her beauties rare,

From lovers warm and true,
For her heart was cold to all but gold,

And the rich came not to woo.
Ah, honored well are charms to sell

When priests the selling do !

Now, walking there was one more fair

A slight girl, lily-pale,
And she had unseen company

To make the spirit quail :
'Twixt Want and Scorn she walked forlorn,

And nothing could avail.

No mercy now can clear her brow

For this world's peace to pray;
For, as love's wild prayer dissolved in air,

Her woman's heart gave way;
And the sin forgiven by Christ in heaven

By man is cursed alway.

There is about this little poem (evidently written in
haste and through impulse) a true imagination. Its
grace, dignity, and pathos are impressive, and there


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is more in it of earnestness, of soul, than in anything
I have seen from the pen of its author. His compo
sitions, in general, have a taint of worldliness> of in
sincerity. The identical rhyme in the last stanza is
very noticeable, and the whole finale is feeble. It
would be improved by making the last two lines pre
cede the first two of the stanza.

In classifying Mr. W.'s writings I did not think it
worth while to speak of him as a dramatist, because,
although he has written plays, what they have of
merit is altogether in their character of poem. Of
his Bianca Visconti I have little to say; it deserved to
fail, and did, although it abounded in eloquent pass
ages. Tortesa abounded in the same, but had a great
many dramatic points well calculated to tell with a
conventional audience. Its characters, with the ex
ception of Tomaso, a drunken buffoon, had no charac
ter at all, and the plot was a tissue of absurdities,
inconsequences, and inconsistencies; yet I cannot
help thinking it, upon the whole, the best play ever
written by an American.

Mr. Willis has made very few attempts at criticism,
and those few (chiefly newspaper articles) have not
impressed me with a high idea of his analytic abilities,
although with a very high idea of his taste and dis

His style proper may be called extravagant, bizarre,
pointed, epigrammatic without being antithetical (this


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is very rarely the case), but, through all its whimsi
calities, graceful, classic, and accurate. He is very
seldom to be caught tripping in the minor morals.
His English is correct; his most outrageous imagery
is, at all events, unmixed.

Mr. Willis's career has naturally made him enemies
among the envious host of dunces whom he has out
stripped in the race for fame; and these his personal
manner (a little tinctured with reserve, brusqverle, or
even haughtiness) is by no means adapted to conciliate.
He has innumerable warm friends, however, and is
himself a warm friend. He is impulsive, generous,
bold, impetuous, vacillating, irregularly energetic, apt
to be hurried into error, but incapable of deliberate

He is yet young, and, without being handsome, in
the ordinary sense, is a remarkably well-looking man.
In height, he is, perhaps, five feet eleven, and justly
proportioned. His figure is put in the best light by
the ease and assured grace of his carriage. His whole
person and personal demeanor bear about them the
traces of " good society." His face is somewhat too
full, or rather heavy, in its lower portions. Neither
his nose nor his forehead can be defended; the latter
would puzzle phrenology. His eyes are a dull bluish-
gray, and small. His hair is of a rich brown, curling
naturally and luxuriantly. His mouth is well cut;
the teeth fine ; the expression of the smile intellectual

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and winning. He converses little, well rather than
fluently, and in a subdued tone. The portrait of him
published about three years ago in Graham's Maga>>
zine conveys by no means so true an idea of the man
as does the sketch (by Lawrence) inserted as frontis
piece to a late collection of his poems.


Mr. William M. Gillespie aided Mr. Park Benja
min, I believe, some years ago, in the editorial con
duct of The New World t and has been otherwise
connected with the periodical press of New York.
He is more favorably known, however, as the
author of a neat volume entitled Rome as Seen
by a New Yorker f a good title to a good book.
The endeavor to convey Rome only by those im
pressions which would naturally be made upon an
American gives the work a certain air of originality,
the rarest of all qualities in descriptions of the Eternal
City. The style is pure and sparkling, although oc
casionally flippant and dilettantesque. The love of
remark is much in the usual way, selon les regles t
never very exceptionable and never very profound.

Mr. Gillespie is not unaccomplished, converses
readily on many topics, has some knowledge of
Italian, French, and, I believe, of the classical tongues,
with such proficiency in the mathematics as has


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obtained for him a professorship of civil engineering
at Union College, Schenectady.

In character he has much general amiability, is
warm-hearted, excitable, nervous. His address is
somewhat awkward, but " insinuating " from its
warmth and vivacity. Speaks continuously and
rapidly, with a lisp which, at times, is by no means
unpleasing; is fidgety, and never knows how to sit
or to stand, or what to do with his hands and feet,
or his hat. In the street walks irregularly, mutters
to himself, and, in general, appears in a state of pro
found abstraction.

In person he is about five feet seven inches high,
neither stout nor thin, angularly proportioned; eyes
large and dark hazel, hair dark and curling, an ill-
formed nose, fine teeth, and a smile of peculiar sweet
ness; nothing remarkable about the forehead. The
general expression of the countenance when in repose
is rather unprepossessing, but animation very much
alters its character. He is probably thirty years of
age, unmarried.


Mr. Briggs is better known as " Harry Franco," a
nom de plume assumed since the publication, in
the Knickerbocker Magazine f of his series of papers
called Adventures of Harry Franco, He also wrote


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for the Knickerbocker some articles entitled The
Haunted Merchant, which have been printed since
as a novel, and from time to time subsequently
has been a contributor to that journal. The two
productions just mentioned have some merit.
They depend for their effect upon the relation in a
straightforward manner, just as one would talk, of
the most commonplace events, a kind of writing
which, to ordinary, and especially to indolent intellects,
has a very observable charm. To cultivated or to
active minds it is in an equal degree distasteful, even
when claiming the merit of originality. Mr. Briggs'
manner, however, is an obvious imitation of Smollett,
and, as usual with all imitation, produces an unfavor
able impression upon those conversant with the or
iginal. It is a common failing, also, with imitators,
to out-Herod Herod in aping the peculiarities of the
model, and, too frequently, the faults are more pertin
aciously exaggerated than the merits. Thus, the au
thor of Harry Franco carries the simplicity of Smollett
sometimes to insipidity, and his picturesque low life is

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Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 19 of 23)