Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “American Diffuseness — Objectionable Concision” (Text-02), from The Evening Mirror (New York), vol. I, no. 90, January 22, 1845, p. 2, col. 2


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AMERICAN DIFFUSENESS — OBJECTIONABLE CONCISION. — The diffuseness of American Legislative oratory has long been the subject of comment among ourselves, as well as among the foreigners who visit us; and for the prevalence of the sin many good reasons have been assigned. One of the most plausible is, that our law-givers address not so much the informed assembly before them, as their constituents at a distance, who, for the chief part, are prone to admeasure a speech with a foot-rule. The main objection here, however, is that, on the same ground, all parliamentary orations should be diffuse in all countries where it is usual to report the debates. The true reason lies, no doubt, in a general tendency carried to excess. The tendency carried to excess. The tendency is that of our democratic institutions to encourage eloquence as the surest road to honors. In rushing at this goal we run beyond it. We fly past eloquence and plunge upon elocution.

It is a much more difficult task, however, to account for the diffuseness which affects our literature, properly so called, and perhaps, were we to attempt the achievement, we should have to speak of climatic, or at least of strictly national traits. In the meantime, let us rest upon the fact. No man can compare, in general, American with European writings, and not become aware of it on the instant.

However objectionable, nevertheless, this diffuseness may be, we would rather see it more prevalent than see the species of concision which has been lately introduced among us, through imitation of that prophet in great and quack in little matters, Carlyle.

The true object of concision is to save time, not in saving words, but in saving thought. — That style, therefore, is the most truly concise which most rapidly transmits the sense. The style is not concise, however few the words, if the sense is impeded by unusualities of construction. With this understanding we may call Judge Marshall concise, and Carlyle, with Gibbon, diffuse. “Those are mad who admire the brevity which squanders our time for the purpose of economizing our printing-ing [[printing-ink]] and paper.”



This item was attributed to Poe by Killis Campbell, T. O. Mabbott and W. D. Hull. Mabbott’s notes at the University of Iowa say “whole accept.” Hull says, “The Mirror article is clearly Poe’s,” and Hull notes the similarity of this item and “Marginialia” of The Democratic Review, Nov. 1844 (item 029), using the same reference to “those are mad who admire a brevity which squanders our time for the purpose of economizing our printing ink and paper.”


[S:1 - EM, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - American Diffuseness (Text-02)