Edgar Allan Poe.

Works (Volume 7) online

. (page 14 of 18)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 14 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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 warbling 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 rhyth
mical lapses sufficient to assure me that in com
mon 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.

ccxv.

There are some facts in the physical world which
have a really wonderful analogy with others in the



196 EDGAR ALLAN POE

world of thought, and seem thus to give some color
of truth to the (false) rhetorical dogma, that meta
phor or simile may be made to strengthen an argu
ment, as well as to embellish a description. The
principle of the vis inertia, for example, with the
amount of momentum proportionate with it and
consequent upon it, seems to be identical in physics
and metaphysics. It is not more true, in the former,
that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion
than a smaller one, and that its subsequent impetus
is commensurate with this difficulty, than it is, in
the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity,
while more forcible, more constant, and more exten
sive in their movements than those of inferior grade,
are yet the less readily moved, and are more em
barrassed and more full of hesitation in the first few
steps of their progress,



CCXVI.

Thomas Moore the most skilful literary artist
of his day perhaps of any day a man who stands
in the singular and really wonderful predicament
of being undervalued on account of the profusion
with which he has scattered about him his good
things. The brilliancy on any one page of Lalla
Rookh would have sufficed to establish that very
reputation which has been in a great measure self-
dimmed by the galaxied lustre of the entire book.
It seems that the horrid laws of political economy
cannot be evaded even by the inspired, and that
a perfect versification, a vigorous style, and a never-
tiring fancy, may, like the water we drink and die
without, yet despise, be so plentifully set forth as
to be absolutely of no value at all.



MARGINALIA 19?

CCXVII.

This is a queer little book,* which its author re
gards as "not only necessary, but urgently called
for," because not only "the mass of the people are
ignorant of English Grammar, but because those
who profess great knowledge of it, and even those
who make the teaching of it their business, will be
found, upon examination, to be very far from under
standing its principles. "

Whether Mr. P. proceeds upon the safe old plan
of Probo meliora, deteriora sequor whether he is
one of "the mass," and means to include himself
among the ignoramuses or whether he is only a
desperate quiz we shall not take it upon ourselves
to say; but the fact is clear that, in a Preface of
less than two small duodecimo pages (the leading
object of which seems to be an eulogy upon one Wil
liam Cobbett,) he has given us some half dozen dis
tinct instances of bad grammar.

" For these purposes, " says he that is to say
the purposes of instructing mankind and enlightening
"every American youth" without exception "for
these purposes, I have written my lessons in a series
of letters. A mode that affords more opportunity
for plainness, familiarity, instruction, and enter
tainment, than any other. A mode that was
adopted by Chesterfield, in his celebrated instruc
tions on politeness. A mode that was adopted by
Smollett, in many of his novels, which, even at this
day, hold a distinguished place in the world of fiction.
A mode that was adopted by William Cobbett, not
only in his admirable treatise on English Grammar,
but in nearly every work that he wrote. " "To Mr.

* A Grammar of the English Language, in a series of Letters,
addressed to every American Youth. By HUGH A. PUB.
Philadelphia: Published by the Author.



198 EDGAR ALLAN POE

Cobbett, " adds the instructor of every America*
youth to "Mr. Cobbett I acknowledge myself in
debted for the greater part of the grammatical knowl
edge which I possess." Of the fact stated there
can be no question. Nobody but Cobbett could
have been the grammatical Mentor of Mr. Pue,
whose book (which is all Cobbett) speaks plainly
upon the point nothing but the ghost of William
Cobbett, looking over the shoulder of Hugh A. Pue,
could have inspired the latter gentleman with the
bright idea of stringing together four consecutive
sentences, in each of which the leading nominative
noun is destitute of a verb.

Mr. Pue may attempt to justify his phraseology
here, by saying that the several sentences, quoted
above, commencing with the words, "A mode," are
merely continuations of the one beginning " For these
purposes;" but this is no justification at all. By
the use of the period, he has rendered each sentence
distinct, and each must be examined as such, in
respect to its grammar. We are only taking the
liberty of condemning Mr. P. by the words of his own
mouth. Turning to page 72, where he treats of
punctuation, we read as follows: "The full point
is used at the end of every complete sentence ; and a
complete sentence is a collection of words making a
complete sense, without being dependent upon an
other collection of words to convey the full meaning
intended." Now, what kind of a meaning can we
give to such a sentence as " A mode that was adopted
by Chesterfield in his celebrated instructions on po
liteness, " if we are to have "no dependence upon"
the sentences that precede it? But, even in the sup
position that these five sentences have been run into
one, as they should have been, they would still be
ungrammatical. For example " For these purposes



MARGINALIA 199

I have -written my lessons in a series of letters a
mode that affords more opportunity for plainness,
familiarity, instruction, and entertainment than any
other a mode, etc." This would have been the
proper method of punctuation. " A mode " is placed
in apposition with "a series of letters." But it is
evident that it is not the "series of letters" which
is the "mode." It is the writing the lessons in a
series which is so. Yet, in order that the noun
"mode" can be properly placed in apposition with
what precedes it, this latter must be either a noun,
or a sentence, which, taken coHectively, can serve
as one. Thus, in any shape, all that we have quoted
is bad grammar.

We say " bad grammar, " and say it through sheer
obstinacy, because Mr. Pue says we should not.
"Why, what is grammar?" asks he indignantly.
"Nearly all grammarians tell us that grammar is
the writing and speaking of the English language
correctly. What then is bad grammar? Why
bad grammar must be the bad writing and speaking
of the English language correctly!!" We give the
two admiration notes and all.

In the first place, if grammar be only the writ
ing and speaking the English language correctly,
then the French, or the Dutch, or the Kickapoos
are miserable, ungrammatical races of people,
and have no hopes of being anything else, unless
Mr. Pue proceeds to their assistance: but let us
say nothing of this for the present. What we wish
to assert is, that the usual definition of grammar,
as "the writing and speaking correctly," is an error
which should have been long ago exploded. Gram
mar is the analysis of language, and this analysis
will be good or bad, just as the capacity employed
upon it be weak or strong just as the grammarian



ioo EDGAR ALLAN POE

be a Home Tooke or a Hugh A. Pue. But perhaps,
after all, we are treating this gentleman discourte
ously. His book may be merely intended as a good
joke. By the by, he says in his preface, that "while
he informs the student, he shall take particular
care to entertain him." Now, the truth is, we have
been exceedingly entertained. In such passages as
the following, however, which we find upon the sec
ond page of the Introduction, we are really at a loss
to determine whether it is the utile or the dulce which
prevails. We give the italics of Mr. Pue; without
which, indeed, the singular force and beauty of the
paragraph cannot be duly appreciated.

" The proper study of English grammar, so far
from being dry, is one of the most rational enjoy
ments known to us; one that is highly calculated to
rouse the dormant energies of the student; it requir
ing continual mental effort; unceasing exercise of
mind. It is, in fact, the spreading of a thought-
producing plaster of Paris upon the extensive grounds
of intellect! It is the parent of idea, and great causa
tion of reflection; the mighty instigator of insur
rection in the interior; and, above all, the unflinching
champion of internal improvement!" We know
r.o thing about plaster of Paris; but the analogy
which subsists between ipecac and grammar at
least between ipecac and the grammar of Mr. Pue
never, certainly, struck us in so clear a point of view,
as it does now.

But, after all. whether Mr. P. s queer little book
shall or shall not ni?et the views of " Every American
Youth, " will depend pretty much upon another
question of high moment whether "Every Ameri
can Youth" be or be not as great a nincompoop as
Mr. Pue.



MARGINALIA tot

CCXVIII.

That Lord Brougham was an extraordinary man
no one in his sense will deny. An intellect of un
usual capacity, goaded into diseased action by pas
sions nearly ferocious, enabled him to astonish the
world, and especially the " hero- worshippers, " as
the author of Sartor-Resartus has it, by the combined
extent and variety of his mental triumphs. At
tempting many things, it may at least be said that
he egregiously failed in none. But that he pre-emi
nently excelled in any cannot be affirmed with truth,
and might well be denied a priori. We have no faith
in admirable Crichtons, and this merely because we
have implicit faith in Nature and her laws. "He
that is borne to be a man," says Wieland, in his
Peregrinus Proteus, "neither should nor can be
anything nobler, greater, nor better than a man/
The Broughams of the human intellect are never
its Newtons or its Bayles. Yet the contempora
neous reputation to be acquired by the former is
naturally greater than any which the latter may
attain. The versatility of one whom we see and hear
is a more dazzling and more readily appreciable
merit than his profundity; which latter is best esti
mated in the silence of the closet, and after the quiet
lapse of years. What impression Lord Brougham
has stamped upon his age, cannot be accurately
determined until Time has fixed and rendered definite
the lines of the medai; and fifty years hence it will
be difficult, perhaps to make out the deepest inden
tation of the exergue. Like Coleridge he should
be regarded as one who might have done much,
had he been satisfied with attempting but little.



EDGAR ALLAN POE

CCXIX.

The Art of Mr. Dickens, although elaborate and
great, seems only a happy modification of Nature.
In this respect he differs remarkably from the author
of " Night and Morning. " The latter, by excessive
care and by patient reflection, aided by much rhe
torical knowledge, and general information, has ar
rived at the capability of producing books which
might be mistaken by ninety-nine readers out of a
hundred, for the genuine inspirations of genius.
The former, by the promptings of the truest genius
itself, has been brought to compose, and evidently
without effort, works which have effected a long-
sought consummation which have rendered him
the idol of the people, while defying and enchanting
the critics. Mr. Bulwer, through art, has almost
created a genius. Mr. Dickens, througk genius,
has perfected a standard from which art itself will
derive its essence in rules.

ccxx.

While Defoe would have been fairly entitled t
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 nearly every family in Christen
dom. Yet never was admiration of any work
universal 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 con-



MARGINALIA 105

ception that any particle of genius, or even of com
mon 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 hare been thrown into obscurity by the
very stupendousness of the wonder they have
wrought I We read, and become perfect abstrac
tions 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 voli
tion over imagination which enables the mind to lose
its own, in a fictitious, individuality. This includes,
in a very great degree, the power ol 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 in
debted to his subject. The idea of man in a state
of perfect isolation, although often entertained, was
never before so comprehensively carried out. In
deed 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 con
ception, went to prove the difficulty of the under
taking. But the true narrative of Selkirk in 1711,
with the powerful impression it then made upon the
public aind, sufficed to inspire Defoe with both
the necessary courage for his work, and entire con
fidence m its success. How wonderful has been the
result!



204 EDGAR ALLAN FOE

CCXXI.

The increase, within a few years, of the magazine
literature, is by no means to be regarded as indicat
ing what some critics would suppose it to indicate
a downward tendency in American taste or in
American letters. It is but a sign of the times
an indication of an era in which men are forced
upon the curt, the condensed, the well -digested in
place of the voluminous in a word, upon journalism
in lieu of dissertation. We need now the light artil
lery rather than the Peace-makers of the intellect.
I will not be sure that men at present think more
profoundly than half a century ago, but beyond ques
tion they think with more rapidity, with more
skill, with more tact, with more of method and less
of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they
have a vast increase in the thinking material, they
have more facts, more to think about. For this
reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount
of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it
with the utmost attainable rapidity, Hence the
journalism of the age; hence, in especial, magazines.
Too many we cannot have, as a general proposition;
but we demand that they have sufficient merit to
render them noticeable in the beginning, and that
they continue in existence sufficiently long to permit
us a fair estimation of their value.

CCXXII.

One half the pleasure experienced at a theatre
arises from the spectator s sympathy with the rest of
the audience, and, especially, from his belief in their
sympathy with him. The eccentric gentleman
who not long ago, at the Park, found himself the
solitary occupant of box, pit, and gallery, would



MARGINALIA 205

have derived but little enjoyment from his visit,
had he been suffered to remain. It was an act of
mercy to turn him out. The present absurd rage
for lecturing is founded in the feeling in question.
Essays which we would not be hired to read so
trite is their subject so feeble is their execution
so much easier is it to get better information on
similar themes out of any encyclopaedia in Christen
dom we are brought to tolerate, and alas, even to
applaud in their tenth and twentieth repetition,
through the sole force of our sympathy with the
throng. In the same way we listen to a story with
greater zest when there are others present at its nar
ration beside ourselves. Aware of this, authors
without due reflection have repeatedly attempted,
by supposing a circle of listeners, to imbue their
narratives with the interest of sympathy. At a
cursory glance the idea seems plausible enough.
But, in the one case, there is an actual, personal,
and palpable sympathy, conveyed in looks, gestures
and brief comments a sympathy of real individuals,
all with the matters discussed to be sure, but then
especially, each with each. In the other instance, we,
alone in our closet, are required to sympathise with
the sympathy of fictitious listeners, who, so far from
being present in body, are often studiously kept
out of sight and out of mind for two or three hun
dred pages at a time. This is sympathy double-
diluted the shadow of a shade. It is unnecessary
to say that the design invariably fails of its effect.

CCXXIIL

The qualities of Heber are well understood. His
poetry is of a high order. He is imaginative, glow
ing, and vigorous, with a skill in the management



EDGAR ALLAN POE

f his means unsurpassed by that of any writer of
kis time, but without any high degree of originality.
Can there be anything in the nature of a "classical "
Ife at war with novelty per se? At all erents, few
fine scholars, such as Heber truly was, care original.

CCXXIV.

Original characters, so called, can only be critically
praised as such, either when presenting qualities
known in real life, but never before depicted, (a
ombination nearly impossible) or when presenting
qualities (moral, or physical, or both) vrhich, al
though unknown, or even known to be hypothetical,
are o skilfully adapted to the circumstances which
sui .id them, that our sense of fitness is not of-
fenaed, and we find ourselves seeking a reason why
Miose 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.

ccxxv.

fieorge 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 dis
tinguishing features are invention, vigor, almost au
dacity, of thought great variety of what the
German critics term intrigue, and exceeding ingenuity
and finish in the adaptation of its component parts.
Nothing is wanting to a complete whole, and nothing
is out of place, or out of time. Without being charge
able in the least degree with imitation, the novel
bears a strong family resemblance to the Caleb



MARGINALIA 207

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 tran
script of a mind familiar to us an unintentional tran
script, let us grant but still one not to be mistaken.
George Balcombe thinks, speaks, and acts, as no
person, we are convinced, but Judge Beverly Tucker,
ever precisely thought, spoke, or acted before.



ao8 EDGAR ALLAN POE



FIFTY SUGGESTIONS



I.

IT is observable that, while among all nations the
omni-color, white, has been received as an em
blem of the Pure, the no-color, black, has by
no means been generally admitted as sufficiently typi
cal of impurity. There are blue devils as well as
black; and when we think very ill of a woman, and
wish to blacken her character, we merely call her
"a blue-stocking," and advise her to read, in Rabe
lais "Gargantua," the chapter "de ce qui est signifie
par les couleurs blanc et bleu." There is far more
difference between these "couleurs," in fact, than
that which exists between simple black and white.
Your "blue," when we come to talk of stockings, is
black in issimo "nigrum nigrious nigro" like
the matter from which Raymond Lully first manu
factured his alcohol.

II.

Mr. , I perceive, has been appointed Libra
rian to the new Athenaeum. To him, the ap
pointment is advantageous in many respects. Es
pecially: "Mon cousin, void une belle occasion
pour apprende a lire!"

III.

As far as I can understand the "loving our ene
mies," it implies the hating our friends.



FIFTY SUGGESTIONS 209

IV.

In commencing our dinners with gravy soup, no
doubt we have taken a hint from Horace

-Da, he says, si grave non est,



Quae prima iratum ventrem placaverit isca.

V.

Of much of our cottage architecture we may safely
say, I think, (admitting the good intention,) that it
would have been Gothic if it had not felt it its duty to
be Dutch.

VI.

James s multitudinous novels seem to be written
upon the plan of "the songs of the Bard of Schiraz"
in which, we are assured by Fadladeen, "the same
beautiful thought occurs again and again in every
possible variety of phrase."

VII.

Some of our foreign lions resemble the human brain
in one very striking particular. They are without
any sense themselves, and yet are the centres of
sensation.

VIII.

Mirabeau, I fancy, acquired his wonderful tact at
foreseeing and meeting contingencies, during his
residence in the stronghold of //.

IX.

Cottle s "Reminiscences of Coleridge " is just such
a book as damns its perpetrator forever in the opin
ion of every gentleman who reads it. Mc/e and

You VII 14



2 TO EDGAR ALLAN POE

more every day do we moderns povoneggiarsi about
our Christianity; yet, so far as the spirit of Christian
ity is concerned, we are immeasurably behind the
ancients. Mottoes and proverbs are the indices of
national character; and the Anglo-Saxons are dis
graced in having no proverbial equivalent to the
"De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Moreover where,
in all statutary Christendom, shall we find a law
so Christian as the "Defuncti injurid ne afficiantur"
of the Twelve Tables? The simple negative injunc
tion of the Latin Law and proverb the injunction
not to do ill to the dead seems, at a first glance,
scarcely susceptible of improvement in the delicate
respect of its terms. I cannot help thinking, how
ever, that the sentiment, if not the idea intended,
is more forcibly conveyed in an apothegm by one of
the old English moralists, James Puckle. By an
ingenious figure of speech he contrives to imbue the
negation of the Roman command with a spirit of
active and positive beneficence. "When speaking
of the dead," he says, in his "Gray Cap for a Green
Head," "so fold up your discourse that their virtues
may be outwardly shown, while their vices are wrapped
up in silence"

X.

I have no doubt that the Fourierites honestly
fancy "a nasty poet fit for nothing" to be the true
translation of "poeta nascitur nonfit"

XL

There surely cannot be "more things in Heaven
and Earth than are dreamt of" (oh, Andrew Jack
son Davis!) "in your philosophy."



FIFTY SUGGESTIONS 211

XII.

" It is only as the Bird of Paradise quits us in tak
ing wing," observes, or should observe, some poet,
"that we obtain a full view of the beauty of its
plumage;" and it is only as the politician is about
being "turned out" that like the snake of the Irish
Chronicle when touched by St. Patrick he "awak
ens to a sense of his situation"

XIII.

Newspaper editors seem to have constitutions
closely similar to those of the Deities in "Walhalla,"
who cut each other to pieces every day, and yet get
up perfectly sound and fresh every morning.

XIV.

As far as I can comprehend the modern cant in


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeWorks (Volume 7) → online text (page 14 of 18)