Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia [part XVII],” Southern Literary Messenger, September 1849, pp. 600-601


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[page 414, column 2, continued:]

MARGINALIA.

[[Item 290]]

Among our men of genius whom, because they are men of genius, we neglect, let me not fail to mention William Wallace, of Kentucky. Had Mr. W. been born under the wings of that ineffable buzzard, “The North American Review,” his unusual merits would long ago have been blazoned to the world — as the far inferior merits of Sprague, Dana, and others of like calibre, have already been blazoned. Neither of these gentlemen has written a poem worthy to be compared with “The Chaunt of a Soul,” published in “The Union Magazine” for November, 1848. It is a noble composition throughout — imaginative, eloquent, full of dignity, and well sustained. It abounds in detached images of high merit — for example:

Your early splendor’s gone

Like stars into a cloud withdrawn —

Like music laid asleep

In dried up fountains.

——

Enough, I am, and shall not choose to die.

No matter what our future Fate may be,

To live, is in itself a majesty.

——

And Truth, arising from yon deep,

Is plain as a white statue on a tall, dark steep.

——

————— Then

The Earth and Heaven were fair,

While only less than Gods seemed all my fellow men.

Oh, the delight — the gladness —

The sense, yet love, of madness

The glorious choral exultations —

The far-off sounding of the banded nations —

The wings of angels in melodious sweeps

Upon the mountain’s hazy steeps —

The very dead astir within their coffined deeps

The dreamy veil that wrapt the star and sod —

A swathe of purple, gold, and amethyst —

And, luminous behind the billowy mist;

Something that looked to my young eyes like God.

I admit that the defect charged, by an envious critic, upon Bayard Taylor — the sin of excessive rhetoricianism — is, in some measure, chargeable to Wallace. He, now and then, permits enthusiasm to hurry him into bombast; but at this point he is rapidly improving; and, if not disheartened by the cowardly neglect of those who dare not praise a poetical aspirant with genius and without influence, will soon rank as one of the very noblest of American poets. In fact, he is so now.

——

[[Item 291]]

“Frequently since his recent death,” says the American Editor of Hood, “he has been called a great author — a phrase used not inconsiderately or in vain.” Yet, if we adopt the conventional idea of “a great author,” there has lived, perhaps, no writer of the last half century who, with equal notoriety, was less entitled than Hood to be so called. In fact, he was a literary merchant, whose main stock in trade was littleness; for, during the larger portion of his life, he seemed to breathe only for the purpose of perpetrating puns — things of so despicable a platitude that the man who is capable of habitually committing them, is seldom found capable of anything else. Whatever merit may be discovered in a pun, arises altogether from unexpectedness. This is the pun’s element and is two-fold. First, we demand that the combination of the pun be unexpected; and, secondly, we require the most entire unexpectedness in the pun per se. A rare pun, rarely appearing, is, to a certain extent, a pleasurable effect; but to no mind, however debased in taste, is a continuous effort at punning otherwise than unendurable. The man who maintains that he derives gratification from any such chapters of punnage as Hood was in the daily practice of committing to paper, should not be credited upon oath.

The puns of the author of “Fair Inez,” however, are to be regarded as the weak points of the man. Independently of their ill effect, in a literary view, as mere puns, they leave upon us a painful impression; for too evidently they are the hypochondriac’s struggles at mirth — the grinnings of the death’s head. No one can read his “Literary Reminiscences” without being convinced of his habitual despondency: — and the species of false wit in question is precise of that character which would be adopted by an author of Hood’s temperament and cast of intellect, when compelled to write at an emergency. That his heart had no interest in these niäiseries, is clear. I allude, of course, to his mere puns for the pun’s sake — a class of letters by which he attained his widest renown. That he did more in this way than in any other, is but a corollary from what I have already said, for, generally, he was unhappy, and almost continually he wrote invitâ Minerva. But his true province was a very rare and ethereal humor, in which the mere pun was left out of sight, or took the character of the richest, grotesquerie; impressing the imaginative reader with remarkable force, as if by a new phase of the ideal. It is in this species of brilliant, or, rather, glowing grotesquerie, uttered with a rushing abandon vastly heightening its effect, that Hood’s marked originality mainly consisted: — and it is this which entitles him, at times, to the epithet “great:” — for that undeniably may be considered great (of whatever seeming littleness in itself) which is capable of inducing intense emotion in the minds, or hearts, of those who are themselves undeniably great.

The field in which Hood is distinctive is a border-land between Fancy and Fantasy. In this region he reigns supreme. Nevertheless, he has made successful and frequent incursions, although vacillatingly, into the domain of the true Imagination. I mean to say that he is never truly or purely imaginative for more than a paragraph at a time. In a word, his peculiar genius was the result of vivid Fancy impelled by Hypochondriasis.


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Notes:

For convenient reference, an item number has been added to each individual entry. The numbers are assigned across the full run of “Marginalia,” matching those used in the authoritative scholarly edition prepared and annotated by Burton Pollin (1985). The present installment, therefore, begins with item 290.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1849] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Marginalia [part XVII] [Text-02]