Edgar Allan Poe.

The works of the late Edgar Allan Poe online

. (page 1 of 55)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe works of the late Edgar Allan Poe → online text (page 1 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

understood that, without reference to
suppoeed merit or demerit, each individual is introduced absolutely
at random.


Tee Rev. Gboroe Bush is Professor of Hebrew in the Uni-
versity of New York, and has long been distinguished for the ex-
tent and variety of his attainments in oriental literature ; indeed,
as an orientaljinguist, it is probable that he has no equal among
us. He has published a great deal, and his books have always
the good fortune to attract attention throughout the civilized
world. His " Treatise on the Millenium'' is, perhaps, that of his
earlier compositions by which he is most extensively as well as
most favorably known. Of late days he has created a singular
commotion in the realm of theology, by his " Anastasis, or the
Doctrine of the Resurrection : in which it k shown that the Doc-
trine of the Resurrection of the Body is not sanctioned by Reason
or Revelation." This work has been zealously attacked, and as
sealously defended by the professor and his friends. There can
be no doubt that, up to this period, the Bushites have had the


by Google


best of the battle. The " Anastasis" is lucidly, succinctly, vigor-
ously, and logically written, and proves, in my opinion, every-
thing that it attempts — provided we admit the imaginary axioms
from which it starts ; and this is as much as can be well said of
any theological disquisition under the sun. It might be hinted,
too, in reference as well to Professor Bush as to his opponents,
*^que laplupart des sectes ont raiaon dans une bonne par tie de ce
gu^elles avaneent, mais non pas en ce qu'elles nienV^ A subse-
quent work on " The Soul," by the author of " Anastasis," has
made nearly as much noise as the *' Anastasis" itself.

Taylor, who wrote so ingeniously " The Natural History of En-
thusiasm," might have derived many a valuable hint from the
study of Professor Bush. No man is more ardent in his theories ;
and these latter are neither few nor commonplace. He is a Mes-
merist and a Swedenborgian — has lately been engaged in editing
Swedenborg's works, publishing them in numbers. He 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 winning. ^

In person he is tall, nearly six feet, and spare, with large bones.
Ss countenance expresses rather benevolence and profound earn-
estness, than high intelligence. The eyes are piercing ; the other
features, in general, massive. The forehead, phrenologically, indi-
cates causality and comparison, with deficient ideality — the organ-
isation which induces strict logicality frx>m insufiBcient premises.
He walks with a slouching gait and with an air of abstraction.
His dress is exceedingly plain. In respect to the arrangement
about his study, he has many of the Magliabechian habits. He
is, perhaps, fifty-five years of age, and seems to enjoy good
health. l*


by Google



Mr. Cotton is noted as the author of ** Tecumseh,'* and ai
the origfnator and editor of " The American Review," a Whig
magazine of the higher (that is to say, of the 6ve 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,
and is supported in the way of contribution by lyany of the very
noblest intellects. Mr. Colton, if in nothing else, has shown him-
self a man of genius in his successful establishment of the maga-
zine within so brief a period. It is now commencing its second
year, and I can say, from my own personal knowledge, that its
circulation exceeds two thousand — it is probably about two thou-
sand 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

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 timjdity 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 un-
exceptionable than positively good. He has not, perhaps, suffi-
cient fire within himself to appreciate it in others. Nevertheless,
he endeavors to do so, and in this endeavor is not inapt to take
opinions at secondhand — to adopt, I mean, the opinions of others.
He is nervous, and a very trifling difficulty disconcerts him, with<>
out 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 '^Tecumseh," io
whose length he has committed a radical and irreparable error,
sufficient in itself to destroy a far better book. Some portions of
It are truly poetigal ; very many portions belong to a high order


by Google


of eloquence ; it is inyariablj well versified, and has no glaring
defects, but, upon the whole, is insufferably tedious. Some of the
author's shorter compositions, published anonymously in his maga-
sine, have afforded indications even of genius.

Mr. Colton is marked in his personal appearance. He is proba-
bly 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 intellectual. His
mouth has a peculiar expression difficult to describe. Hair Hght
and generally in disorder. He converses fluently, and, upon the
whole, well, but grandiloquently, and with a tone half tragical
half pulpitaL

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


Whatever may be thought of Mr. Willis's talents, there can
be no doubt about the fact that, both as an author and as a man,
he has made a good deal of abise in the world — at least for an
American. His hterary life, in especial, has been one continual
^meute ; but then his literary character is modified or impelled in
a very remarkable degree by his personal one. His success (for
in point of fiime, if of nothing else, he has certainly been success-
ful) 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 accomplishing.

At a very early age Mr. Willis seems to have arrived at an un-
derstanding that, in a republic such as ours, the mere man of
letters must ever be a cipher, and endeavored, accordingly, to
unite the ^lat of the litterateur with that of the myn of fashion
%-r of society. He " pushed himself," went much into the world,
uiuie friends with the gentler sex, "delivered" poetical addresses,
#rote ^ scriptural" poems, travelled, sought the intimacy of noted


by Google

t8 N. P. WILLIS.

women, and got into quarrels with notorious men. All thest
things served his purpose — ^if, indeed, I am right in supposing
that he had any purpose at all. It is quite probable that, as be-
fore hinted, he acted only in accordance with his physical tem-
perament ; but, be this as it may, his personal greatly advanced,
if it did not altogether establish his literary fame. I have often
carefully considered whether, without the, plumq ue of which I
speak, there is that in the absolute morale of Mr. Willis which
would have earned him reputation as a man of letters, and my
conclusion is, that he could not have failed to become noted in
swme degree under almost any circumstances, but that about two-
thirds (as above stated) of his appredation by the public should
be attributed to those adventures which grew immediately out of
his animal constitution.

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 extraor-
dinary savoir faire, fully twice as much as would have been its
value in any common case. No man's knowledge is more availa-
ble, no man has exhibited greater tact in the seemingly casual
display of his wares. With hirn^ at least, a little learning is no
dangerous thing. He possessed at one time, I believe, the aver-
age quantum of American collegiate lore — " a little Latin and less
Greek," a smattering of physical and metaphysical science, and
(I should judge) a very Uttle of the mathematics — but all this
must be considered as mere guess on my part Mr. Willis speaks
French with some fluency, and Italian not quite so well.

Within the ordinary range of belles leiires authorship, he has
evinced much versatility. K called on to designate him by any
general literary title, I might term him a ma^azinist — 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

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,


by Google

N. P. WILLia

asd as do many of the most brilliaBt and seemingly dtuhmg
writers of the present day,) with great labor and frequent erasure
and interlineation. His MSS., in this regard, present a very sin-
gular appearance, and indicate the vacillatton which is, perhaps,
the leading trait of his character. A newspaper, too, in its longer
articles — ^its " leaders" — very frequently demands argumentation,
and here Mr. W. is remarkably out of his element His exuber*
ant fancy leads him over hedge and ditch — anywhere from the
maxn road ; and, besides, he is far too readily self-dispossessed.
With time at command, however, his great t<ict stands him in-
stead of all argumentative power, and enables him to overthrow
an antagonist witiiout permitting the ktter to see how he is over-
thrown. A fine example 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. Raymond, he put forth his strength in ren-
dering them null, to all intents and purposes, by obliterating,
incidentally and without letting his design be perceived, all ths
impresnon these charges were calculated to convey. But this re-
ply can be called a newspaper article only on the ground of its
having appeared in a newspaper, ^

As a writer of "sketches," properly so called, Mr. Willis is un-
equalled. Sketches — especially of society — are his forte, and they
are so for no other reason than that they afford him the best op-
portunity of introdudng the personal Willis — or, more distinctly,
because this species of composition is most susceptible of im-
pression from his personal character. The degagk 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 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 origi-
nalityy the fr^hness, the point, the piquancy, which appear to be


by Google

80 N. P. WILLIS.

the immediate, but which are, in &ct, the mediate sources of his

* As, by metaphysicians and in ordiaary discourse, the word fancy \a
used with very little determinateness of meaning, I may be pardoned for re-
peating here what I have elsewhere said on this topic. I shall thus be sayed
much misapprehensioQ in regard to the term— one which wUl necessarily 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 diflference even of degree. The
fimcy as nearly creates as the imagination, and neither at aU. Novel con-
ceptions 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
creation of the intellect — aU is re-soluble into the old The wildest effort of
the mind cannot stand the test of this analysis.

ImaginatiiMi, &ncy, fantaay, and humor, have in common the elements
combmation and novelty. The imagination is the artist of the four. From
novel arrangejnents of old forms which present themselves to it, it selects
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, /rotn either beauty or deformity , only the most combina-
ble 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 analo-
gously happens in physical chemistry, so not unfrequently docs it occur in
this chemistry of the intellect, that the admixture of two elements will re-
sult in a something that shall have nothing of the qtiality of one of them —
or even nothing of the qualities of either. The range of imagination is thus
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
(acUity of discovering oombinable novelties worth combining, and the abso-
lute " 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 un-
discriminating, through the character of obviousness which is superinduced
We are apt to find ourselves asking vhy it is that these combinations hav
• been imagined before f


by Google

K. P. WILLia 81

In tale$ (written with deliberation for the magazines) he has
shown greater ccnstrucHveneu than I should have given him
credit for had I not read his compositions of this order — for in
this feculty all his other works indicate a singular deficiency. The
chief charm even of these tales, however, is still referable U> fancy,
. As a poet, Mr. Willis is not entitled, I think, to so high a rank
as he maj justly claim through his prose ; and this for the reason
that, although fancy is not inconsistent with any of the demands
of those classes of prose composition which he has attempted,
and, indeed, is a vitsd 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 genera
ally of our author's poems. In some instances, seeming to feel
the truth of my proposition, (that fancy should have no place in
the lofUer poesy,) he has denied it a place, as in " Melanie," and
his Scriptural pieces ; but, unfortunately, he has been unable to
supply the void with the true imagination, and these poems con- .
sequently are deficient in vigor, in stamen. The Scriptural pieces

Vow, when this questkn doe» not occur, wheo the harmooy of the com-
IjinaUon is comparatiTely neglected, and when, in addition to the element of
novelty, there is introduced the sub-elemeot of untzpeetedneu — ^when, for
example, matters are brought into combination which not only have never
been combined, but whose combination strikes us as a cUffietUty happily over-
come, the result then appertains to the fimcy, 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 ie less harmonious.

Carrying its errors into excess — for, however enticing, they are errors still,
or nature lies — fiEmcy is at lei^^ 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
fitfther, however, &ncy seeks not merely disproportionate but incongruous or
antagonistic elements, the effect is rendered more pleasurable by its greater
positiveness, there is a merry efifort of truth to shake from her that which is
no proper ty of hers, and we laugh oubright in recognising humor.

The four liEunilties in question seems to me all of their class ; but when
cither fiuicy or humor is* expressed to gain an end, is pointed at a purpose— >
wheoever either becomes objective in place of subjective, then it becomes,
alao^ pure wit or laroasm, just as the purpose is benevolent or malrroleni


by Google


ai« quite ^correot,^ at the Freiidi haye it, and are much admired
by a certain set of readers, who judge of a poem, not by its ef-
fect on themselves, but by the effect which they imagine it mipht
hare upon themselves 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.

Hie ehadows kj aloo^ Broadway,

Twas near tbe twilight tide, «
And slowly there a lady fiur

Waa wukiDg in her pride-^
Alone walked she, yet viewlessfy

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 caUed her good as i
For all God ever gave to her

She kept with chary (

She kept with care her beauties rare

From lovers warm and tme,
For her heart was cold to all bat goU,

And the rich came not to woa
Ah, honored weU are chaims to sell

When fffiests the selling do 1

Kow, waDdn^^ there waa one more fiur—

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

To make the spirit quail —
Twixt want and ecom she walked forioni.

And nothing could avail.

No merc^ now can dear 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 foi^given 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 pa-
thos are impressive, and there ia more in it of eameatnesi, of soul,


by Google


than in any tiling I have seen from the pen of its anthotr. His
oompofiitiona, in general, have a taint of worldliness, of insincerity.
Hie identical rhyme in the last stanza is very noticeable, and the
whole finaU is feeble. It would be improved by making the last
two lines precede 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 Visoonti " I have little to say ; — ^it de-
served to fiiil, and did, although it abounded in filoqueni passages.
^ Tortesa'^ abiounded in die same, but had a great many dramatic
jxnnts well calculated to tell with a conventional audience. Its
diaracters, with the exception of Tomaso, a drunken buffoon, had
no character at all, and the plot was a tissue of absurdities, incon-
sequences 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 imd discrimination.

His style proper may be called extravagant, biearre, pointed,
ejHgrammatic without being antithetical, (this is very rarely the
ease,) but, through all its whimsicalities, graceful, classic and ac-
eurais. He is very seldom to be caii^t 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 tlie
envious hast of dunces whom he has outstripped in the race lor
£une ; and these his personal manner (a little tinctured with re-
serve, brusqueriCy or even haughtiness) is by no means adapted to
conciliate. He has innumerable warm friends, however, and is
lumself a w^cQpt. friend. He is impulsive, generous, bold, impet-
uous, vacillating, irregularly energetic — apt to be hurried into
error, but incapable of deliberate wrong.

• 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
li|^ by tbeeaae and assured grace of his carriage HiswhobptoKm


by Google


and personal demeanor bear about them the traces of " good society.**
His face is somewhat too full, or rather heavy, in its lower por-
tions. 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 express
sion of the smile intellectual and winning. He converses little,
toell rather than fluently, and in a subdued tone. The portrait
of him published about three years ago in *' Graham's Magazine,**
conveys by no means so true an idea of the man as does the
sketch (by Lawrence) inserted as frontispiece to a lltte collection
of his poems.


Mr. William M. Gillespie aided Mr. Park Benjamin, 1 be-
lieve, some years ago, in the editorial conduct of "The New
World," 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," — a good title to a good book. The endeavor to convey
Rome only by those impressions which would naturally be made
upon an American, gives the work a certain air of originality —
the rarest of all quaTities in descriptions of the Eternal City.
The style is pure and sparkling, although occasionally flippant and
dilletantesque. The love of remark is much in the usual way —
feUm les rkglea — never very exceptionable, and never •very pro-

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

In character he has much general amiability, is warm-hearted,

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe works of the late Edgar Allan Poe → online text (page 1 of 55)