Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Charles Fenno Hoffman — September 20, 1848 (LTR-277)


Dear Sir: —

In your paper of July 29, I find some comments on “Eureka,” a late book of my own; and I know you too well to suppose, for a moment, that you will refuse me the privilege of a few words in reply. I feel, even, that I might safely claim, from Mr. Hoffman, the right, which every author has, of replying to his critic tone for tone — that is to say, of answering your correspondent, flippancy by flippancy and sneer by sneer — but, in the first place, I do not wish to disgrace the “World;” and, in the second, I feel that I never should be done sneering, in the present instance, were I once to begin. Lamartine blames Voltaire for the use which he made of (ruse) misrepresentation, in his attacks on the priesthood; but our young students of Theology do not seem to be aware that in defence, or what they fancy to be defence, of Christianity, there is anything wrong in such gentlemanly peccadillos as the deliberate perversion of an author’s text — to say nothing of the minor indecora of reviewing a book without reading it and without having the faintest suspicion of what it is about.

You will understand that it is merely the misrepresentations of the critique in question to which I claim the privilege of reply: — the mere opinions of the writer can be of no consequence to me — and I should imagine of very little to himself — that is to say if he knows himself, personally, as well as I have the honor of knowing him. The first misrepresentation is contained in this sentence: —”This letter is a keen burlesque on the Aristotelian or Baconian methods of ascertaining Truth, both of which the writer ridicules and despises, and pours forth his rhapsodical ecstasies in a glorification of the third mode — the noble art of guessing.” What I really say is this: — That there is no absolute certainty either in the Aristotelian or Baconian process — that, for this reason, neither Philosophy is so profound as it fancies itself — and that neither has a right to sneer at that seemingly imaginative process called Intuition (by which the great Kepler attained his laws;) since “Intuition,” after all, “is but the conviction arising from those inductions or deductions of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape our consciousness, elude our reason or defy our capacity of expression.” The second misrepresentation runs thus: —”The developments of electricity and the formation of stars and suns, luminous and non-luminous, moons and planets, with their rings, &c., is deduced, very much according to the nebular theory of Laplace, from the principle propounded above.” Now the impression intended to be made here upon the reader’s mind, by the “Student of Theology,” is, evidently, that my theory may all be very well in its way, but that it is nothing but Laplace over again, with some modifications that he (the Student of Theology) cannot regard as at all important. I have only to say that no gentleman can accuse me of the disingenuousness here implied; inasmuch as, having proceeded with my theory up to that point at which Laplace’s theory meets it, I then give Laplace’s theory in full, with the expression of my firm conviction of its absolute truth at all points. The ground covered by the great French astronomer compares with that covered by my theory, as a bubble compares with the ocean on which it floats; nor has he the slightest allusion tO the “principle propounded above,” the principle of Unity being the source of all things — the principle of Gravity being merely the Reaction of the Divine Act which irradiated all things from Unity. In fact, no point of my theory has been even so much as alluded to by Laplace.

I have not considered it necessary, here, to speak of the astronomical knowledge displayed in the “stars and suns” of the Student of Theology, nor to hint that it would be better grammar to say that “development and formation” are, than that development and formation is. The third misrepresentation lies in a foot-note, where the critic says: —”Further than this, Mr. Poe’s claim that he can account for the existence of all organized beings — man included — merely from those principles on which the origin and present appearance of suns and worlds are explained, must be set down as mere bald assertion, without a particle of evidence. In other words we should term it arrant fudge.” The perversion at this point is involved in a wilful misapplication of the word “principles.” I say “wilful;” because, at page 63, I am particularly careful to distinguish between the principles proper, Attraction and Repulsion, and those merely resultant, sub-principles which control the universe in detail. To these subprinciples, swayed by the immediate spiritual influence of Deity, I leave, without examination, all that which the Student of Theology so roundly asserts I account for on the principles which account for the constitution of suns, &c.

In the third column of his “review” the critic says: —”He asserts that each soul is its own God — its own Creator.” What I do assert is, that “each soul is, in part, its own God — its own Creator.” Just below, the critic says: —”After all these contradictory propoundings concerning God we would remind him of what he lays down on page 28 —”Of this Godhead in itself he alone is not imbecile — he alone is not impious who propounds nothing. A man who thus conclusively convicts himself of imbecility and impiety needs no further refutation.” Now the sentence, as I wrote it, and as I find it printed on that very page which the critic refers to and which must have been lying before him while he quoted my words, runs thus: —”Of this Godhead, in itself, he alone is not imbecile, &c., who propounds nothing.” By the italics, as the critic well knew, I design to distinguish between the two possibilities — that of a knowledge of God through his works and that of a knowledge of Him in his essential nature. The Godhead, in itself, is distinguished from the Godhead /observed in its effects. But our critic is zealous. Moreover, being a divine, he is honest — ingenuous. It is his duty to pervert my meaning by omitting my italics — just as, in the sentence previously quoted, it was his Christian duty to falsify my argument by leaving out the two words, “in part,” upon which turns the whole force — indeed the whole intelligibility of my proposition.

Were these “misrepresentations” (is that the name for them? ) made for any less serious a purpose than that of branding my book as “impious” and myself as a “pantheist,” a “polytheist,” a Pagan, or a God knows what (and indeed I care very little so it be not a “Student of Theology,”) I would have permitted their dishonesty to pass unnoticed, through pure contempt for the boyishness — for the turndown-shirt-collar-ness of their tone: — but, as it is, you will pardon me, Mr. Editor, that I have been compelled to expose a “critic” who, courageously preserving his own anonymosity, takes advantage of my absence from the city to misrepresent, and thus villify me, by name.

Edgar A. Poe.

Fordham, September 20, 1848





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to C. F. Hoffman (LTR277/RCL721)