Edgar Allan Poe.

Works (Volume 7) online

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


from this, that the rules which we deduce from the
Homeric effects are to supersede those immutable
principles of time, quantity, etc. the mathematics,
in short, of music which must have stood to these
Homeric effects in the relation of causes the
mediate causes of which these "ears and ringers"
are simply the intermedia.

CXCVIII.

Of Berryer, somebody says "he is the man in
whose description is the greatest possible consump
tion of antithesis." For "description" read "lec
tures," and the sentence would apply well to Hudson,
the lecturer on Shakspeare. Antithesis is his end
he has no other. He does not employ it to enforce
thought, but he gathers thought from all quarters



MARGINALIA 181

with the sole view to its capacity for antithetical
expression. His essays have thus only paragraphical
effect; as wholes, they produce not the slightest
impression. No man living could say what it is
Mr. Hudson proposes to demonstrate; and if the
question were propounded to Mr. H. himself, we
can fancy how particularly embarrassed he would
be for a reply. In the end, were he to answer
honestly, he would say "antithesis.

As for his reading, Julius Cassar would have said
of him that he sang ill, and undoubtedly he must
have "gone to the dogs" for his experience in pro
nouncing the r as if his throat were bored like a
rifle-barrel,*

CXCIX.

It is James Montgomery who thinks proper to
style McPherson s "Ossian" a collection of halting,
dancing, lumbering, grating, nondescript para
graphs."



CC.

A bookf which puzzles me beyond measure, since,
while agreeing with its general conclusions, (except
where it discusses prevision,) I invariably find fault
with the reasoning through which the conclusions are
attained. I think the treatise grossly illogical

* "Nee illi (Demontheni) turpe videbatur vel, optimis relictis
magistris, adcanes se conferre, et. ab illis literce vim et naturam
peter e, illorumque in sonando, quod satis est, tnorem tmitari."
Ad Meker, de vet. Pron. Ling. Grascae.

f Human Magnetism: Its Claim to Dispassionate Inquiry.
Being an Attempt to show the Utility of its Application for
the Relief of Human Suffering. By W. Newnham, M. R. S. L.
Author of the Reciprocal Influence of Body and Mind. Wiley
& Putnam.



i8 2 EDGAR ALLAN POE

throughout. For example: the origin of the work
is thus stated in an introductory chapter:

About twelve months since, I was asked by some friends
to write a paper against Mesmerism and I was furnished
with materials by a highly esteemed quondam pupil, which
proved incontestably, that under some circumstances the
operator might be duped that hundreds of enlightened
persons might equally be deceived and certainly went
far to show that the pretended science was wholly a delu
sion a system of fraud and jugglery by which the imagi
nations of the credulous were held in thraldom through the
arts of the designing. Perhaps in an evil hour I assented
to the proposition thus made but on reflection, I found
that the facts before me only led to the direct proof that
certain phenomena might be counterfeited; and the ex
istence of counterfeit coin is rather a proof that there is
somewhere the genuine standard gold to be imitated.

The fallacy here lies in a mere variation of what
is called "begging the question." Counterfeit coin
is said to prove the existence of genuine: this,
of course, is no more than the truism that there can
be no counterfeit where there is no genuine just
as there can be no badness where there is no good
ness the terms being purely relative. But because
there can be no counterfeit where there is no original,
does it in any manner follow that any undemon-
strated original exists? In seeing a spurious coin
we know it to be such by comparison with coins
admitted to be genuine; but were no Coin admitted
to be genuine, how should we establish the counter
feit, and what right should we have to talk of counter
feits at all? Now, in the case of Mesmerism, our
author is merely begging the admission. In saying
that the existence of counterfeit proves the existence
of real Mesmerism, he demands that the real be
admitted. Either he demands this or there is no



MARGINALIA 183

shadow of force in his proposition for it is clear
that we can pretend to be that which is not. A
man, for instance, may feign himself a sphynx or
a griffin, but it would never do to regard as thus
demonstrated the actual existence of either griffins
or sphynxes. A word alone the word "counter
feit" has been sufficient to lead Mr. Newnham
astray. People cannot be properly said to " counter
feit" provision, etc., but to feign these phenomena.
Dr. Newnham s argument, of course, is by no means
original with him, although he seems to pride himself
on it as if it were. Dr. More says: "That there
should be so universal a fame and fear of that which
never was, nor is, nor can be ever in the world, is
to me the greatest miracle of all. If there had not
been, at some time or other, true miracles, it had not
been so easy to impose on the people by false. The
alchemist would never go about to sophisticate
metals, to pass them off for true gold and silver,
unless that such a thing was acknowledged as true
gold and silver in the world." This is precisely the
same idea as that of Dr. Newnham, and belongs to
that extensive class of argumentation which is all
point deriving its whole effect from epigrammatism.
That the belief in ghosts, or in a Deity, or in a future
state, or in anything else credible or incredible
that any such belief is universal, demonstrates
nothing more than that which needs no demon
stration the human unanimity the identity of
construction in the human brain an identity of
which the inevitable result must be, upon the whole,
similar deductions from similar data. Most espe
cially do I disagree with the author of this book in
his (implied) disparagement of the work of Chauncey
Hare Townshend a work to be valued properly
only in a day to come.



t84 EDGAR ALLAN POE

CCI.

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,

As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in its flight.*

The single feather here is imperfectly illustrative
of the omniprevalent darkness; but a more especial
objection is the likening of one feather to the falling
of another. Night is personified as a bird, and
darkness the feather of this bird falls from it,
how? as another feather falls from another bird.
Why, it does this of course. The illustration is
identical that is to say, null. It has no more
force than an identical proposition in logic.

CCII.

The question of international copyright has been
overloaded with words. The right of property in a
literary work is disputed merely for the sake of dis
putation, and no man should be at the trouble of
arguing the point. Those who deny it, have made
up their minds to deny everything tending to further
the law in contemplation. Nor is the question of
expediency in any respect relevant. Expediency
is only to be discussed where no rights interfere.
It would no doubt be very expedient in any poor
man to pick the pocket of his wealthy neighbor,
(as the poor are the majority, the case is precisely
parallel to the copyright case;) but what would the
rich think if expediency were permitted to over
rule their right ? But even the expediency is unten
able, grossly so. The immediate advantage arising
to the pockets of our people, in the existing condition
of things, is no doubt sufficiently plain. We get

* Proem to Longfellow s "Waif."



MARGINALIA 185

more reading for less money than if the international
law existed; but the remoter disadvantages are of
infinitely greater weight. In brief, they are these:
First, we have injury to our national literature
by repressing the efforts of our men of genius; for
genius, as a general rule, is poor in worldly goods
and cannot write for nothing. Our genius being
thus repressed, we are written at only by our "gen
tlemen of elegant leisure," and mere gentlemen of
elegant leisure ha e been noted, time out of mind,
for the insipidity of their productions. In general,
too, they are obstinately conservative, and this
feeling leads them into imitation of foreign, more
especially of British models. This is one main
source of imitativeness with which, as a people, we
have been justly charged, although the first cause is
to be found in our position as a colony. Colonies
have always naturally aped the mother land. In the
second place, irreparable ill is wrought by the almost
exclusive dissemination among us of foreign that
is to say, of monarchical or aristocratical sentiment
in foreign books; nor is this sentiment less fatal to
democracy because it reaches the people them
selves directly in the gilded pill of the poem or the
novel. We have next to consider the impolicy of
our committing, in the national character, an open
and continuous wrong on the frivolous pretext of its
benefiting ourselves. The last and by far the most
important consideration of all, however, is that sense
of insult and injury aroused in the whole active
intellect of the world, the bitter and fatal resentment
excited in the universal heart of literature a resent
ment which will not and which cannot make nice
distinctions between the temporary perpetrators of
the wrong and that democracy in general which
permits its perpetration. The autorial body is the



i86 EDGAR ALLAN POE

moi,t autocratic on the face of the earth. How,
then, can those institutions even hcpe to be safe
which systematically persist in trampling it under
foot?

CCIII.

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
a 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 ^Eschylus, 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, ad
vanced 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.

CCIV.

The Swedenborgians inform me that they have
discovered all that I said in a magazine article, en
titled "Mesmeric Revelation," to be absolutely
true, although at first they were very strongly in
clined 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.



MARGINALIA 187

CCV.

Here is a book of "amusing travels," which is
full enough of statistics to have been the joint com
position of Messieurs Busching, Hassel, Carmabitch,
Gaspari, Gutsmuth and company.

CCVI.

I have never yet seen an English heroic verse on
the proper model of the Greek although there
have been innumerable attempts, among which those
of Coleridge are, perhaps, the most absurd, next to
those of Sir Philip Sidney and Longfellow. The
author of "The Vision of Rubeta" has done better,
and Percival better yet; but no one has seemed to
suspect that the natural preponderance of spondaic
words in the Latin and Greek must, in the English,
be supplied by art that is to say, by a careful cull
ing of the few spondaic words which the language
affords as, for example, here:

Man is a | complex, [ compound, | compost, | yet is he |
God-born.

This, to all intents, is a Greek hexameter, but then
its spondees, are spondees, and not mere trochees.
The verses of Coleridge and others are dissonant,
for the simple reason that there is no equality in
time between a trochee and a dactyl. When Sir
Philip Sidney writes,

So to the | woods Love | runnes as | well as | rides to the
| palace,

he makes an heroic verse only to the eye; for " woods
Love" is the only true spondee, "runs as," "well
as," and "palace," have each the first syllable long
and the second short that is to say, they are all



i88 EDGAR ALLAN POE

trochees, and occupy less time than the dactyls or
spondee hence the halting. Now, all this seems
to be the simplest thing in the world, and the only
wonder is how men professing to be scholars should
attempt to engraft a verse, of which the spondee
is an element, upon a stock which repels the spondee
as antagonistical.

CCVII.

In the sweet "Lily of Nithsdale," we read

She s gane to dwell in heaven, my lassie

She s gane to dwell in heaven;
Ye re ow re pure, quo the voice of God,

For dwelling out o heaven.

The ow re and the o 1 of the two last verses should
be Anglicized. The Deity at least, should be sup
posed to speak so as to be understood although I
am aware that a folio has been written to demon
strate broad Scotch as the language of Adam and
Eve in Paradise.

CCVIII.

The conclusion of the Proem in Mr. Longfellow s
late "Waif" is exceedingly beautiful. The whole
poem is remarkable in this, that one of its principal
excellences arises from what is generically, a de
merit. No error, for example, is more certainly fatal
in poetry than defective rhythm; but here the slip-
shodiness is so thoroughly in unsion with the non
chalant air of the thoughts which again, are so
capitally applicable to the thing done (a mere intro
duction of other people s fancies) that the effect
of the looseness of rhythm becomes palpable, and
we see at once that here is a case in which to be



MARGINALIA 189

correct would be inartistic. Here are three of the
quatrains

I see the lights of the village

Gleam through the rain and the mist,

And a feeling of sadness comes over me
That my soul cannot resist

A feeling of sadness and longing

That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only

As the mists resemble the rain. . . ,

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day

Shall fold their tents like the Arabs^
And as silently steal away.

Now these lines are not to be scanned. They are
referable to no true principles of rhythm. The
general idea is that of a succession of anapaests;
yet not only is this idea confounded with that of
dactyls, but this succession is improperly inter
rupted at all points improperly, because by un-
equivalent feet. The partial prosaicism thus brought
about, however, (without any interference with the
mere melody,) becomes a beauty solely through the
nicety of its adaptation to the tone of the poem, and
of this tone, again, to the matter in hand. In his
keen sense of this adaptation, (which conveys the
notion of what is vaguely termed " ease, ") the reader
so far loses sight of the rhythmical imperfection that
he can be convinced of its existence only by treating
in the same rhythm (or, rather, lack of rhythm) a
subject of different tone a subject in which decision
shall take the place of nonchalance. Now, undoubt
edly, I intend all this as complimentary to Mr.
Longfellow; but it was for the utterance of these
very opinions in the "New York Mirror" that I



190 EDGAR ALLAN POE

was accused, by some of the poet s friends, of in
diting what they think proper to call "strictures,"
on the author of "Outre-Mer. "

CCIX.

We might contrive a very poetical and very
suggestive, although, perhaps, no very tenable
philosophy, by supposing that the virtuous live
while the wicked suffer annihilation, hereafter; and
that the danger of the annihilation (which danger
would be in the ratio of the sin) i-.ight be indicated
nightly by slumber, a^d occasionally, with more
distinctness, by a swoon. In proportion to the
dreamlessness of the sleep, for example, would be
the degree of the soul s liability to annihilation.
In the same way, to swoon and awake in utter un-
consciouness of any lapse of time during the syncope,
would demonstrate the soul to have been then in
such condition that, had death occurred, annihilation
would have followed. On the other hand, when
the revival is attended with remembrance of visions,
(as is now and then the case, in fact,) then the soul
to be considered in such condition as would insure
its existence after the bodily death the bliss or
wretchedness of the existence to be indicated by the
character of the visions.

ccx.

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 capa
bilities. The mad eulogies on what occasionally
has, in letters, been well done, spring from our im-



MARGINALIA

perfect 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 al
though its orb be far below the ordinary horizon.

CCXI.

The United State s motto, E pluribus unum, may
possibly have a sly allusion to Pythagoras defini
tion of beauty the reduction of many into one.

CCXII.

The great feature of the "Curiosity Shop" is its
chaste, vigorous, and glorious imagination. This
is the one charm, all potent, which alone would
suffice to compensate for a world more of error than
Mr. Dickens ever committed. It is not only seen in
the conception, and general handling of the story,
or in the invention of character; but it pervades every
sentence of the book. We recognise its prodigious
influence in every inspired word. It is this which
induces the reader who is at all ideal, to pause fre
quently, to re-read the occasionally quaint phrases,
to muse in uncontrollable delight over thoughts
which, while he wonders he has never hit upon them
before, he yet admits that he never has encountered.
In fact it is the wand of the enchanter.

Had we room to particularize, we would mention
as points evincing most distinctly the ideality of the
"Curiosity Shop" the picture of the shop itself
the newly-born desire of the worldly old man for



i 9 2 EDGAR ALLAN POE

the peace of green fields his whole character and
conduct, in short the schoolmaster, with his deso
late fortunes, seeking affection in little children
the haunts of Quilp among the wharf-rats the
tinkering of the Punch-men among the tombs the
glorious scene where the man of the forge sits poring,
at deep midnight, into that dread fire again the
whole conception of this character; and, last and
greatest, the stealthy approach of Nell to her death
her gradual sinking away on the journey to the
village, so skilfully indicated rather than described
her pensive and prescient meditation the fit of
strange musing which came over her when the house
in which she was to die first broke upon her sight the
description of this house, of the old church, and of
the church-yard everything in rigid consonance
with the one impression to be conveyed that deep
meaningless well the comments of the Sexton upon
death, and upon his own secure life this whole
world of mournful yet peaceful idea merging, at
length, into the decease of the child Nelly, and the
uncomprehending despair of the grandfather. These
concluding scenes are so drawn that human lan
guage, urged by human thought, could go no farther
in the excitement of human feelings. And the
pathos is of that best order which is relieved, in great
measure, by ideality. Here the book has never been
equalled, never approached except in one instance,
and that is in the case of the "Undine" of De
La Motte Fouque\ The imagination is parhaps as
great in this latter work, but the pathos, although
truly beautiful and deep, fails of much of its effect
through the material from which it is wrought. The
chief character, being endowed with purely fanciful
attributes, cannot command our full sympathies,
as can a simple denizen of earth. In saying, a page



MARGINALIA 193

or so above, that the death of the child left too
painful an impression, and should therefore have
been avoided, we must, of course, be understood as
referring to the work as a whole, and in respect to
its general appreciation and popularity. The death,
as recorded, is, we repeat, of the highest order of
literary excellence yet while none can deny this
fact, there are few who will be willing to read the
concluding passages a second time.

Upon the whole we think the "Curiosity Shop"
very much the best of the works of Mr. Dickens.
It is scarcely possible to speak of it too well. It is in
all respects a tale which will secure for its author
the enthusiastic admiration of every man of genius.

ccxni.

It is not every one who can put "a good thing"
properly together, although, perhaps, when thus
properly put together, every tenth person you meet
with may be capable of both conceiving and appre
ciating it. We cannot bring ourselves to believe
that less actual ability is required in the compcsition
of a really good "brief article, " than in a fashionable
novel of the usual dimensions. The novel certainly
requires what is denominated a sustained effort
but this is a matter of mere perseverance, and has
but a collateral relation to talent. On the other
hand unity of effect, a quality not easily appreci
ated or indeed comprehended by an ordinary mind,
and a desideratum difficult of attainment, even by
those who can conceive it is indispensable in the
"brief article," and not so in the common novel. The
latter, if admired at all, is admired for its detached
passages, without reference to the work as a whole
or without reference to any general design which
VOL. VII 13



I 9 4 EDGAR ALLAN POE

if it even exist in some measure, will be found to
have occupied but little of the writer s attention,
and cannot, from the length of the narrative, be
taken in at one view, by the reader.

CCXIV.

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 pro
duce effects 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
4 ^Enone," I would test any one s ideal sense. There
are passages in his works which rivet a conviction I
had long entertained, that the indefinite is an
element in the true vonjoa. Why do some persons
fatigue themselves in attempts to unravel such fan
tasy-pieces as the "Lady of Shalott?" As well un
weave the "ventum textilem." If the author did
not deliberately propose himself a suggestive inde-
finitiveness of meaning, with the view of bringing
about a definitiveness of vague and therefore of
spiritual effect 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
nbue it with any very determinate tone and yru de
prive 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



MARGINALIA 195

upon which it floats. You exhaust it of its breath of
faery. It now becomes a tangible and easily appre
ciable 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
nare 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
silliness of the "Battle of Prague?" What man of
taste but must laugh at the interminable drums,
trumpets, blunderbusses, and thunder? "Vocal


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 13 of 18)