Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “A Reviewer Reviewed,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1377-1388 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 1377:]


This jeu d’esprit was composed during the last months of Poe’s life. His leaf of “Memoranda for Philadelphia” reminded him to get an epigram from Graham’s on his trip south, and he undoubtedly meant the one quoted near the beginning of “A Reviewer Reviewed.” The holograph manuscript is unfinished, although we clearly have all there ever was of it. It came into the hands of Rufus Wilmot Griswold from Poe’s trunk, and the editor’s son, W. M. Griswold, sold it with other Poeana, in New York in 1896.* Shortly before the sale an arrangement was made to publish it as a syndicated newspaper article on Sunday, March 15, 1896, in the New York Journal and other newspapers. The method of publication chosen was regrettable, because all of one significant paragraph and part of another were silently omitted by the syndicators. This abridged version was reprinted by Miss Phillips, but has been completely ignored by almost all later writers on Poe. I saw the manuscript when Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach owned it, but for text here I follow a photocopy graciously given by the present owner, Mr. H. Bradley Martin.

“A Reviewer Reviewed” is apparently the latest of Poe’s numerous articles designed to call attention to his own growing reputation as an author. It has enough of the element of fiction in it to justify its collection among the Tales and Sketches. The device of praise grudgingly given, and with some dispraise by a severe critic, must have amused Poe. On the manuscript he wrote, “For Graham’s Magazine,” as if he had hoped it might appear there. It is fair to say that he may have decided the thing was too extravagant, and abandoned it. Yet he did not destroy it.

The evidence of Poe’s authorship, which I regard as conclusive, can be summed up briefly. He used a pseudonym when he felt it [page 1378:] would serve his purpose.§ It was nothing new for him to ridicule his own methods — he did that in “How to Write a Blackwood Article.” The most telling evidence is that the uses of “drop” and “upon” censured as solecisms are “corrected” in Poe’s own copy (the Lorimer Graham copy) of The Raven and Other Poems and Tales bound as one. Who else would have picked out precisely those items in 1849?*

The text below is the first complete publication of “A Reviewer Reviewed.”


(A) Manuscript, summer 1849; (B) New York Journal, March 15, 1896, p. 26 (abridged); (C) Mary E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe the Man (1926), II, 961-967, from the last.

The manuscript (A) is of eight unnumbered but consecutive pages approximately 8 by to inches with a small left-hand margin. The seventh page is not filled, a space being left after the “Sonnet to Zante,” and on the eighth page the final paragraph is written between blank spaces. Hence, it is clear that the unfinished manuscript contains all that was written of Poe’s article.

The manuscript (A), without emendation, is followed, by courtesy of the owner, Mr. H. Bradley Martin. The first publication (B) was in a syndicated article, simultaneously published in several Sunday papers throughout the nation. None of the italicizations in the manuscript (A) are carried in texts B and C.

For Graham’s Magazine.



As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of

asses on the top of one of the mountains — how

they viewed and reviewed us!

Sterne — “Letter from France.”   [[n]]

Mr Editor — In a late number of your widely circulated Magazine I had the satisfaction of reading an epigram which appeared to me, and to your subscribers generally, if I am not very [page 1379:] much mistaken, to be not less well aimed and fairly driven home to the mark, than righteously deserved. It was in these words,

On P—, the Versifier, reviewing his own Verses(1)


When critics scourged him there was scope

For self-amendment and for hope;

Reviewing his own verses, he

Has done the deed — felo de se.

I am glad to perceive that there is at least one editor of a Magazine who is not so tied up in Mr Poe’s interest as to be afraid of expressing an honest opinion of him as a literary man, but I do assure you that not only myself but a great many others were astonished beyond measure at finding that you had the courage to insert the epigram, good as it was. Your putting it in however, has elevated you not a little in the public opinion, and has encouraged me to hope that you will do me the favor of publishing this Review of the Reviewer, especially as what I ask is merely in the way of perfectly fair and above board retaliation for what Mr P. upon one or two occasions has seen fit to say of some unpretending poems of mine, as well as of a novel by my brother-in-law.(2) And as for the truth and justice of what I shall write, I trust that on that score there will be no one to offer objection, as I do not intend to say a single word that shall not be accompanied by the proof. Mr Poe, to say nothing of my own case, has done little else than “ride rough shod” over what he is in the facetious habit of denominating the “poor devil authors” of the land,(3) and I presume that neither you nor any body else will think it unreasonable that, sooner or later, he should have the bitter chalice of criticism returned to his own lip — provided always and of course that the thing is done fairly, honorably, and with no trick or subterfuge — in a word, provided that the criticism be just.

To follow Mr Poe’s own apparently frank mode of reviewing, I will begin by putting the merits of my author “in the fairest light.” I shall not pretend to deny then that he has written several pieces of very considerable merit, and that some of these pieces [page 1380:] have attracted, partly of their own accord and partly through the puffing of his friends, an unusual degree of notoriety. Among these I feel called upon to mention his Tales published by Wiley & Putnam,(4) and especially the one called “The Murder in the Rue Morgue,” which I learn has been reprinted and highly complimented in Paris,(5) and “The Gold Bug”(6) which Martin Farquhar Tupper justly praises,(7) as well as the “Descent into the Maelstroom,“(8) and several other stories, all of which I am willing to admit display great power of analysis and imagination. “The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar” have perhaps made a greater “sensation” than anything else he has written, and has, I understand, not only gone the complete rounds of the London press, from the Morning Post down, but has been printed in pamphlet form in London, Paris and Vienna.(9) The ingenuity and general merit of his “Raven” I do not wish to detract from, although I certainly do not think quite so highly of it as Miss Barrett {aa}or as Mr Willis{aa} professes to do; nor as Mr P{b} himself does, if we are to judge by the laudatory criticism on it which he lately published in “Graham,” a criticism which displayed, perhaps, more analysis than modesty.(10) Some of his shorter poems are also praiseworthy, and his “Sleeper” and “Dreamland” are in my opinion better than the Raven, although in a different way. Of his criticisms I have not so much to observe in the way of commendation. They show scholarship, and the peculiar analytic talent which is the ruling feature in everything he writes. They are also remarkable for that Quixotic kind of courage which induces people of Mr P’s{c} temperament to be perpetually tilting at something — although it too often happens that the something is a windmill;(11) and there is one good point about them which it would be unjust to omit; and that is, they show no respect for persons. They are seldom aimed at small game. On the other hand they seem to me bitter in the extreme, captious, fault-finding, and unnecessarily severe. Mr. P.{d} has been so often complimented for his powers of sarcasm that he thinks it incumbent upon him{e} to keep up his reputation in that line by [page 1381:] sneers upon all occasions and downright abuse. As for the beauties of a work, he appears to have made up his mind to neglect them altogether, or when he condescends to point one out, or to quote it, his compliments, however well they begin, are always sure to end with a point, or barb, which it is easy to mistake for satire in disguise. Real, honest, heartfelt praise is a thing not to be looked for in a criticism by Mr Poe. Even when it is{f} his evident intention to be partial, to compliment in an extravagant manner some of his lady friends (for he never compliments a gentleman) there always seems to be something constrained, and shall I say malicious, at the bottom of the honey cup. These blemishes render his critical judgments of little value. {gg}They may be read for their pungency, but all the honesty they ever contain may be placed upon the point of a cambric needle.{gg}

Before proceeding with some very serious literary accusations which I have to make on my own part against Mr Poe, it may be as well, perhaps, to call his attention to something which has been said about him in the “London Literary Gazette.” I wish to see if he will vouchsafe a reply to it. Mr P.{h} has pointed out, in his late “Literati”, a number of scientific blunders on the part of Mr. Richard Adams Locke,(12) and perhaps the public may have some curiosity to know how he will account for his own. The “Gazette” referred to is of the date of March 14th 1846.

To the Editor of the Literary Gazette — Sir, Having just read a review of Edgar Poe’s Romances in the Literary Gazette of January p 101,(13) allow me to advert to a curious misconception in{i} a scientific point of view which the author has fallen into. In describing his whirling in the Maelstroom he says — ‘On looking out when half way down, the boat appeared hanging as if by magic upon the interior surface of a funnel of vast circumference and prodigious depth’ &c. . . . My gaze fell instinctively downwards . . . . . . The smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool which sloped at an angle of more than forty-five [page 1382:] degrees; so that we seemed to be lying on our beam ends.’ &c. . . ..

Now, with all deference I would submit, first, That our only notions of up or down are derived from the direction of gravity; when therefore the direction of gravity is changed by centrifugal force, that direction will still appear to be down. 2d. That our only sense of motion is relative; when therefore all that is visible is rotating along with ourselves, we shall have no sense of motion; and in few cases do we ever ourselves appear to be the moving objects (witness the case of railway travelling). The only apparent motion will be the slight difference of motion between the various objects and ourselves. Whence it appears that the gentleman in the predicament described would, on looking about him, see a vast funnel of water apparently laid on its side, with its lower side horizontal, at which lower part his boat would always appear to be lying; the heavens appearing at one end horizontally and apparently rotating; while the chaotic abyss and foam would be at the opposite end; the waters appearing (full of local currents no doubt) stretching in a miraculous archway or tunnel, almost motionless, about and over the boat, and apparently supported by nothing; and objects nearer the entrance would appear to rotate vertically in a slowly retrograde direction; while objects would appear to have an opposite rotation, more and more rapid, towards the{j} misty tumultuous end; the real velocity of the whole being unperceived, except by the contrary apparent rotation of the heavens. This would, indeed, be a wondrous spectacle, though scarcely sufficing to induce a personal experiment by your humble servant,

William Petrie.”

So much for Mr Petrie, and leaving Mr Poe to reply to him, I will just here put in a point for myself, although I confess it has been suggested to me by a friend at my elbow. It is this — In accounting for his hero’s escape from the Maelstrom, {kk}Mr P.{kk} quotes Archimedes “De Incidentibus in Fluido” lib 2. for the following [page 1383:] fact, viz: that “a cylinder swimming in a vortex, offers more resistance to its suction and is drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body of any form whatsoever.” Now{l} the friend at my elbow asserts roundly, first, that the fact stated is no fact at all and is contrary to known laws, and secondly that there is no such passage in the second book of Archimedes as the one referred to. Thirdly he says that no such passage, nor any resembling it, is in Archimedes at all, and that he dues Mr Poe to point it out.(14)

{mm}With Mr Poe’s general style no great fault can be justly found. He has the rare merit of distinctness and simplicity, and can be forcible enough upon occasion; but as he has a most unmannerly habit of picking flaws in the grammar of other people, I feel justified in showing him that he is far from being immaculate himself. Not long ago I remember his sneering at some one for using the verb “drop” in an active sense, but at page 14 of his Tales (Wiley & Putnam edition) he commits the very same blunder — e.g — “As sure as you drop that beetle I’ll break your neck.” Again at page 18 — “Was it this eye or that through which you dropped the beetle?” “As{n} sure as you let fall that beetle” would be proper. An apple drops, but we let an apple fall. At page 34 he uses “except,” with gross impropriety, for “unless” — a common error. E.g — “I found that it was impossible to retain a seat upon it except in one particular position.” “Upon” in this sentence is also improperly employed for “on.” This error is very usual with Mr Poe. At page 25 there are no less than five instances of it — e.g — “I doubted not that heat had been the agent in bringing to light upon the parchment the skull which I saw designed upon it.” The up is properly used only where action appears. An apple, for instance, lies on a table; but we place an apple upon a table.(15) Even in the Preface to his Poems, where we are forced to suppose him careful if ever, he is guilty of inaccurate construction. For example — “If what I have written is to circulate at all, I am naturally anxious that it should circulate as I wrote it.” Now here the sentence should obviously be — “I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it, if it circulate at all.” Or — “I am [page 1383:] naturally anxious that what I have written, if it is to circulate at all, should circulate as I wrote it.”(16) But a truce with these trifles — and yet they are the very kind of trifles which Mr P. is so fond of exposing in other people.{mm}

The truth is, I have something more serious to speak of. The great point which Mr Poe has become notorious for making is that of plagiarism, and in his elaborate reply to “Outis” in the earlier numbers of the “Broadway Journal,” he was at great pains to demonstrate what a plagiarism is, and by what chain of reasoning it could be established.(17) My own purpose at present is simply to copy a few parallel passages, leaving it for the public to decide whether they do or do not come properly under the head of wilful and deliberate literary theft.

At page 24 of Mr P’s last volume of Poems (Wiley &c Putnam’s edition) in a song called Eulalie, is the passage,

Now Doubt — now Pain

Come never again

For her soul gives me sigh for sigh.(18)

In Tom Moore’s “Last Rose of Summer” we find it thus,

No flower of her kindred,

No rose-bud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes

Or give sigh for sigh.

The author of the lines which follow I cannot name just now, but I give them because there are doubtless many of my readers who can. Some poet, however, is speaking of a traitor to his country and wishes him doomed

to dwell

Full in the sight of Paradise

Beholding Heaven yet feeling Hell.

In “Al Aaraaf,” at page 69 of the Poems, we read

And there oh may my weary spirit dwell

Apart from Heaven’s eternity, and yet how far from Hell! (19)

One of Mr Poe’s most admired passages is this, forming the [page 1385:] conclusion of the poem called “The City in the Sea,” and to be found at page 22 —

And when, amid no earthly moans

Down, down, that town shall settle hence

Hell rising from a thousand thrones

Shall do it reverence.

But unfortunately Mrs Sigourney, in a little poem called “Musing Thoughts,” first published in “The Token,” for 1829, has the lines,

Earth slowly rising from her thousand thrones

Did homage to the Corsican.(20)

{oo}Mr Poe has also been much praised for these{p} lines, found at page 63 of the Poems,

A dome{q} by linked light from Heaven let do

Sat gently on these columns as a crown.(21)

Every classical scholar however{r} must remember the Gods’ Council of Homer, beginning ’Ηὼς μὲν κροκίπεπλος ἐκίδνατο ηᾶσαν ἐπ’ αιαν, and the lines which Pope translates (I have not the original by me)

Let down our golden everlasting chain

Whose strong embrace holds Heaven and Earth and Main.{oo}

That Mr Poe has in many cases obtained help from the more obscure classics is, I fancy, no more than a legitimate inference from so glaringly obvious an imitation as this, which we find at page 20.

Sonnet to Zante

Fair isle that, from the fairest of all flowers,

Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!

How many memories of what radiant hours

At sight of thee and thine at once awake!

How many scenes of what departed bliss!

How many thoughts of what entombed hopes

How many visions of a maiden that is

No more — no more upon thy verdant slopes!

No more! alas that magical sad sound

Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more — [page 1386:]

Thy memory no more! Accursed ground

Henceforth I hold thy flower-enamelled shore,

O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!

Isola d‘oro! Fior di Levante!(22)

Here I might safely pause; but it would not be quite proper to omit all mention of this critic’s facility at imitation! in prose as well as verse. In his story of “Hans Phaall” published in his “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” but originally appearing in the first volume of the “Southern Literary Messenger”(23)

[No more was written.]



[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1380:]

a  ↑ or as Mr. Willis ↓ (A)

b  Poe (B, C)

c  Poe’s (B, C)

d  Poe (B, C)

e  himself (B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1381:]

f  ↑ is ↓ (A)

gg . . . gg  Omitted (B, C)

h  Poe (B, C)

i  <page 101> in (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1382:]

j  the <mis> (A)

kk . . . kk  ↑ Mr. P. ↓ (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1383:]

l  <Not> ↑ Now ↓ (A)

mm . . . mm  Paragraph omitted (B, C)

n  <At page 34 he> “As (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1385:]

oo . . . oo  Omitted (B, C)

p  the↑se↓ (A)

q  <dome> <↑chain↓> ↑dome↓. (A)

r  ↑ however ↓ (A)


[page 1386, continued:]


Title:  No source is needed for so obvious a phrase, but it may be noted that “The Reviewer Reviewed” was the heading given in Blackwood’s Magazine, June 1828, to a letter to the editor humorously but vigorously criticizing a review in the Edinburgh Review for January 1828. The criticism was of substance, but also of style and of many specific abuses of grammar and syntax.

Motto:  The motto Poe took from Stanley (1838), I, 102. This work by Horace Binney Wallace, whom Poe knew only as “William Landor,” gives the incorrect reference to Sterne; the passage is really in Tristram Shandy, VI, 1. Poe used it also in “Marginalia,” number 145 (Godey’s, September 1845, p. 122) and number 211 (SLM, April 1849, p. 221).

1.  The epigram, signed W., appeared in Graham’s for December 1846; Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition” had been published in the April issue.

2.  This allusion is probably “mystification.”

3.  For other mentions of “poor devil authors,” see “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House,” n. 4.

4.  Tales was published in June 1845.

5.  Two pirated and abridged translations of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” one signed G. B. in La Quolidienne, June 11, 12, 13, 1846, and another by Old Nick (E. D. Forgues) in Le Commerce, October 12, led to a famous lawsuit in Paris. See pp. 525-526 above.

6.  All authorized texts hyphenate “Gold-Bug.” See introduction to that tale above.

7.  Martin Farquhar Tupper’s review of the Tales appeared under the heading “American Romance” in the London Literary Gazette, January 31, 1846.

8.  The spelling “Maelstroom” (from Petrie’s letter quoted below as it was printed in the Literary Gazette) may reflect Poe’s peculiar diaeresis over the “o.” Note that in the paragraph following Petrie’s letter there is no mark over the “o.” [page 1387:]

9.  The London Morning Post, January 5, 1846, carried the Valdemar story as “Mesmerism in America,” with a note that the editor thought it fiction. It also appeared in the Popular Record of Modern Science, London, January 10, 1846, a paper which had previously copied “Mesmeric Revelation” (see the London Notes and Queries, November 21, 1942), and separately as Mesmerism “In Articulo Mortis” (London, 1846). No German or French version printed while Poe was alive has been found.

10.  The praise of Willis in the Evening Mirror, January 29, 1845, and that of Miss Barrett in her famous letter to Poe of April 1846 (now in the Berg Collection), are quoted by most of Poe’s biographers. Poe’s own article on “The Raven” is “The Philosophy of Composition” (Graham’s, April 1846).

11.  Poe wrote of his own “Quixotic sense of the honorable” to Mrs. Whitman, October 18, 1848.

12.  Poe’s sketch of Locke was in Godey’s Lady’s Book for October 1846. In it Poe pointed out errors in the Moon Hoax perpetrated by Locke in 1835.

13.  The review cited is that by Tupper; see n. 7 above.

14.  See “A Descent into the Maelström,” n. 21.

15.  The “errors” cited are from “The Gold-Bug.” Poe corrected most of them in the J. Lorimer Graham copy of his volume of 1845, which is the source of our text; see the variants.

16.  These instances of inaccurate construction were marked by Poe for correction in his copy. (See reproduction, Mabbott, I, 579.)

17.  Poe’s replies to “Outis” are in the Broadway Journal, March 8 to April 5, 1845. “Outis” was, in my opinion, probably Poe himself, something “A Reviewer Reviewed” tends to confirm. Poe had a very gentle and sensible comment on plagiarism in his “Literati” sketch of James Aldrich (Godey’s, July 1846); see also “Marginalia,” number 160 (Democratic Review, April 1846, p. 270).

18.  “Eulalie,” lines 14-16; see Mabbott, I, 349-350.

19.  See Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh, “The Fire Worshippers”:

Just Prophet, let the damn’d one dwell

Full in the sight of Paradise,

Beholding heav’n and feeling hell!

The other quotation is from “Al Aaraaf,” II, 172-173 (Mabbott, I, 111).

20.  Lines 45-46 of Lydia H. Sigourney’s “Musing Thoughts,” alluding to Napoleon, are quoted. The poem was published in The Token for 1829, pp. 75-77. See “The City in the Sea,” lines 52-53 and note, Mabbott, I, 202, 204.

21.  See “Al Aaraaf,” II, 20-21 (Mabbott, I, 106). The Greek that follows is the first line of the eighth book of the Iliad, and means, “Dawn yellow-robed spread over all the earth”; the English quotation is from Pope’s Iliad, VIII, 25-26. Both quotations are correct, even to the Greek accents.

22.  What minor classic Poe connected with his Zante sonnet is not known; the context shows it was something in Greek or Latin. See Mabbott, I, 310-312.

23.  “Hans Phaall — A Tale” (in SLM, June 1835); “Hans Phaall” (in Tales [page 1388:] of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840). Poe’s borrowings in this tale from Rees’s Cyclopaedia (of which John Allan bought a set in 1810) were discussed in Modern Language Notes, December 1930, by Meredith Neill Posey.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1377:]

*  Bangs & Co., sale of April 11, 1896, lot 97. Complete authentication by both R. H. Stoddard and G. E. Woodberry was given there.

  Poe the Man (1926), II, 961-967. Killis Campbell in his Mind of Poe (1933), p. 229, commented on this imperfect version, and accepted it as a composition by Poe, with slight reservations. The parts Campbell never saw (indicated by “mm . . . mm” and “oo . . . oo” in the list of variants) are those most unmistakably Poe’s.

  Griswold’s edition omitted all unfinished material. Harrison never mentioned “A Reviewer Reviewed,” and probably did not know of its existence.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1378:]

§  “Walter C. Bowen” is obviously a pseudonym. Poe was in correspondence in 1844 and 1848 with the Pennsylvania editor, Eli Bowen; Francis Bowen wrote for the North American Review; but no record of a Walter Bowen has been found.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1378, running to the bottom of page 1379:]

*  Students may ask if there be any kinship between “A Reviewer Reviewed” and the letter of “Outis,” which forms part of the controversy of 1845 known as “The Longfellow War.” “Outis” (Nobody) was the author of a letter “written in a clever imitation of Poe’s manner” (Quinn, Poe, p. 454) defending Longfellow and James Aldrich from Poe’s charge of plagiarism made in a review (Evening Mirror, January 20 and 21, 1845) of The Waif, an anthology of minor poets, edited by Longfellow. [page 1379:] Actually it was “A Reviewer Reviewed” that led Miss Phillips (Poe the Man, II, 956ff.) to identify “Outis” as Poe himself. H. W. L. Dana (Longfellow’s grandson) and I, independently, and for still different reasons, came to the conclusion that “Outis” was Poe. Killis Campbell dissented in his Mind of Poe, p. 229, but, as noted above, he never saw a complete copy of “A Reviewer Reviewed.”




This manuscript is now in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, where it was donated by Burton and Alice Pollin.


[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (A Reviewer Reviewed)