Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 06,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 263-280 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 263:]


United States Magazine and Democratic Review

April 1846 XVIII, 268-72


By Edgar A. Poe.

[15 items, nos. 155-169]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia 155

In general, our first impressions are the true ones — the chief difficulty is in making sure which are the first. In early youth we read a poem, for instance, and are enraptured with it. At manhood we are assured by our reason that we had no reason to be enraptured. But some years elapse, and we return to our primitive admiration, just as a matured judgment enables us precisely to see what and why we admired.(a) Thus, as individuals, we think in cycles, and may, from the frequency or infrequency of our revolutions about the various thought-centres, form an accurate estimate of the advance of our thought toward maturity. It is really wonderful to observe how closely, in all the essentials of truth, the child-opinion coincides with that of the man proper — of the man at his best.(b)

And as with individuals, so, perhaps, with mankind. When the world begins to return, frequently, to its first impressions, we shall then be warranted in looking for the millennium — or whatever it is: — we may safely take it for granted that we are attaining our maximum of wit, and of the happiness which is thence to ensue. The indications of such a return are, at present, like the visits of angels(c) — but we have them now and then — in the case, for example, of credulity.(d) The philosophic, of late days, are distinguished by that very facility in belief which was the [page 263:] characteristic of the illiterate half a century ago. Skepticism, in regard to apparent miracles, is not, as formerly, an evidence either of superior wisdom or knowledge. In a word, the wise now believe — yesterday they would not believe — and day before yesterday (in the time of Strabo for example) they believed, exclusively, anything and everything: — here, then, is one of the indicative cycles completed — indicative of the world’s approach to years of discretion. I mention Strabo merely as an exception to the rule of his epoch — (just as one, in a hurry for an illustration, might describe Mr. So and So to be as witty or as amiable as Mr. This and That is not) — for so rarely did men reject in Strabo’s time, and so much more rarely did they err by rejection, that the skepticism of this philosopher must be regarded as one of the most remarkable anomalies on record.(e)


(b)admired) a. This para. is derived from para. 4 of CS (1844), although it leaves out the specific idea of the first impressions as being “intuitive.”

best) . For Poe’s ref. to “cycles” and “epicycles” see M 82, and for his use of “gyrating agglomerations” see para. 211 of Eureka (H 16.292-93). The circular or whirling force as central to Poe’s thought is stressed by Richard Wilbur in his LC Anniversary lecture of 1957, reprinted in Eric Carlson, Recognition of Poe (Ann Arbor, 1966), p. 257. Poe coined the compound words “thought-centres” and “child-opinion.”

angels) c. See Pin 38 and M 138A for prior use (and details) of his source, Thomas Campbell, Pleasures of Hope, 2, 378, “angel visits.”

credulity) d. This sentence and the next three are recast from a passage in AWM of 12/18/39 upholding the defense of beetsugar raising by Poe’s friend James Pedder (Brigham, p. 18):

Time was, when credulity, and a blind adoption of raw schemes, were the distinguished [sic] traits of the rabble; but the rapid march of invention has altered all this, and incredulity, and a dogged refusal to see or understand, are now more properly the popular features. The simple truths which science unfolds, day after day, are, in fact, far stranger, apparently, than the wildest dreams in which imagination used to indulge of old.

record) e. See Pin 141 for a prior use of Strabo, eminent historian and geographer (64 B.C.-21 A.D.), whose Geography survives as a storehouse of information, erudite and elegant. As a firm Stoic Strabo fulfills Poe’s need for a prominent skeptic, although not an anomaly then, as Poe says. [page 265:]

Marginalia 156

I cannot help believing, with Gosselin, that Hanno proceeded only so far as Cape Nun.


Note: This is entirely derived from Washington Irving’s History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (London, 1828), Appendix XIV, 4.227-28, which is based on James S. Clark, Progress of Maritime Discovery (London, 1803). Irving’s text provides three relevant passages: “The famous voyage of Hanno the Carthaginian is supposed to have taken place about a thousand years before the Christian era. The Periplus Hannonis remains a brief and obscure record of this expedition” (227). “He never circumnavigated the extreme end of Africa. Mons. Gosselin . . . in his researches into the Geography of the Ancients (T. 1, p. 162), after a rigid examination of the Periplus of Hanno, determines that he had not sailed farther south than Cape Non” (228). “According to M. Gosselin . . . all [authorities] . . . fix the limits of southern navigation about the neighborhood of Cape Non, or Cape Bojador” (229). The En. Br. (18.851) indicates Cape Nun, Non, No, Nor, Nao, etc. as on the extreme southern Atlantic coast of Morocco, below the town of Ifni. For Hanno see M 117.

Marginalia 157

The drugging system, in medical practice, seems to me but a modification of the idea of penance, which has haunted the world since its infancy — the idea that the voluntary endurance of pain is atonement for sin. In this, the primary phrase of the folly, there is at least a show of rationality. Man offends the Deity; thus appears to arise a necessity for retribution, or, more strictly, a desire, on the part of Deity, to punish. The self-infliction of punishment, then, seemed to include at once an acknowledgment of error, zeal in anticipating the will of God, and expiation of the wrong. The thought, thus stated, however absurd, is not unnatural; but the principle being gradually left out of sight, mankind at length found itself possessed of the naked idea that, in general, the suffering of mankind is grateful to the Creator: — hence the Dervishes, the Simeons, the monastic hair-cloths and shoe-peas, the present Puritanism and cant about the “mortification of the flesh.”(a) From this point the conceit makes another lapse; the fancy took root, that in the voluntary endurance of ill there existed, in the abstract, a tendency to good; and it was but in pursuance of this fancy, that, in sickness, remedies were selected in the ratio of their repulsiveness. How else shall we account for the [page 266:] fact, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the articles of the Materia Medica are distasteful?(b)


flesh) a. St. Simeon Stylites (390?-459 a.d.) was the prototype and greatest of the “pillar-hermits” living atop a pillar (“stulos” in Greek); ousted from the monastery for excessive austerities; at thirty he mounted a low pillar, living and preaching there henceforth, achieving the height of sixty feet and great renown. Poe’s designation of the “pillar-hermits” as “Simeons” seems incorrect, but obvious. Similar is Poe’s apparent coinage of “shoe-peas” for mortifying the feet, appearing in no dictionary explored. The quoted phrase is from Romans, 8:13. In “Tale of Jerusalem” (TOM 43, 45) is “Simeon the Pharisee” (see p. 48 n2 for provenance) with a possible pun on pillar-mounting proclivities (“Simeon and his associate arrived on the summit of the tower.”).

distasteful) b. The expression is Latin for “medical material,” referring to the uses, properties and effects of remedial substances. Dioscorides wrote his Materia Medica (first century A. D.) about 600 substances used as guides for the herbalists of the Renaissance. Poe may be here alluding to nasty-tasting patent medicines, which he frequently lampooned; see Pollin on “Oppodeldoc” and other patent medicines, PN, 1971, 4.30-32.

Marginalia 158

Mr. Henry Cary is introduced to us, in the Appendix to “The Poets and Poetry of America,” as “Mr. Henry Carey, author of ‘Poems by John Waters,’ originally printed in the ‘New-York American’ and the ‘Knickerbocker Magazine.“’ Mr. Cary’s works have appeared only in the periodicals mentioned — that is, I believe they have not yet been collected in volume form. His poems (not so good as his prose by any means) are easily and pointedly written, neatly versified, and full of life and fancy. Doctor Griswold has made a mistake in attributing to our Mr. Cary the Anacreontic entitled “Old Wine to Drink,” quoted in the Appendix of the “large book.”(a)

It is as an essayist that Mr. C. is best entitled to distinction. He has written some of the happiest Magazine papers, of the Spectator class, in the language. All that he does, evinces a keen relish for old English literature, and a scholastic taste. His style is pure, correct, and vigorousajudicious mixture of the Swift and Addison manners — although he is by no means either Swift or Addison. In a well-written memoir of him furnished for “The Broadway Journal,” the writer says:(b)

“His essays are all short, as essays should be, of the Addisonian dimensions and density of expression. His sentences are the most perfect [page 267:] in the language; it would be a vain task to hunt through them all for a superfluous conjunction. They are too perfect to be peculiar, for writers are distinguished from each other more by their faults than their excellences. . . . He can endure nothing that wears a slovenly aspect. His lawns must be neatly trimmed and his gardens weeded. . . . He has not written much about flowers, but we should think that his favorite was a Camelia. He is in some sort a Sam Rogers, but more particular. . . . His descriptions have a delicacy of finish like the carvings of Grinling Gibbons. They remind you as forcibly of Nature as anything short of Nature can; but they never deceive you; you know all the while that it is not a reality that affects you.(c)

Of course in all this there is exaggeration. The commentator seems to have had in view the twofold object of writing, himself, a John Waterish essay, and doing full justice to his personal friend. The only trouble is, that the justice is a little too full. It will not quite do to say that Mr. Cary’s sentences are the “most perfect” in the language — first, because “perfect” admits of no degrees of comparison, and secondly, because the sentences in question are perfect by no means. For example — “It would be in vain,” says the critic, “to hunt through them all for a superflous conjunction” — immediately afterwards quoting from Mr. C. the following words:

“We paid our visit to the incomparable ruins of the castle, and then proceeded to retrace our steps, and examining our wheels at every posthouse, reached the Hotel D‘Angleterre. . . .It was well filled, and yet the number,” etc.

Now the conjunctions which I have italicized are pleonastic. These things, however, are trifles; John Waters deserves all the spirit if not the whole letter of his friend’s commendation.(d)


book) a. This substantially repeats the “Literati” sketch of Henry Cary in Godey’s of July 1846, reprinted in H 14.67-8. The last paragraph of the sketch gives the gravamen of Poe’s probable animus against him: “Mr. Cary is what Doctor Griswold calls a gentleman of elegant leisure. He is wealthy and much addicted to letters and virtu. For a long time he was President of the Phoenix Bank of New York.” For the deliberate, successful career of this financial leader, gourmet, traveler, and Elian essayist, see the account of Perry Miller, The Raven and the Whale (N. Y., 1956), ch. 3, but note his missing Poe’s full-measure sarcasm in this article (p. 160). It is probably deliberately and out of a slight fear of Cary’s resentment that Poe couches para. two in an ambiguous style, as though in praise of Cary, although in reality he is epitomizing Griswold’s favorable Appendix sketch (Poets and Poetry of America, 1st ed.) before deriding it along with the sketch by Briggs in the Broadway Journal (1/25/45, 1.55), “American Prose Writers. No. 3. John Waters.” This introduces [page 268:] a long excerpt about Cary’s reaction to a Liszt concert in Heidelberg, which was reprinted from the Knickerbocker Magazine. Poe was correct about the misattribution of “A Winter Wish” or “Old Wine to Drink,” which was anonymous when it appeared in the New Yorker (1/51 39; 6.248), for a plea in the Home Journal of 3/10/55 led Griswold to reveal the author as R. H. Messinger (1811-74) in editions of the “large book” (PPA), starting in 1855 (p. 366); sic in R. LeGallienne’s anthology.

says) b. The entire article of M 158 and the expanded form in the “Literati” sketch spring from the words of Briggs and of Henry Cary himself; one should note that Poe removes from the latter the references to Swift which are actually Poe’s insertion, not to be found in Briggs’ text. Clearly the complete absence of satirical bite and criticism in Cary makes the comparison inapposite.

affects you) c. By Rogers, Briggs refers to Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), a parallel banker, popular poet, and a friend of Byron and other prominent Romantic literati. Grinling Gibbons (1648-1720), wood carver and statue-maker, worked for Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral and attests to Briggs’ refined taste and knowledge rather unsuitably.

commendation) d. Poe’s coinage of “John Waterish” is a masterly pun on the sentimental, copy-book style of Cary’s essay, while his analysis of the faults (larger in the sketch itself) manages to deride both Cary and his admirer Briggs, against whom Poe now cherished some animus.

Marginalia 159

“So violent was the state of parties in England, that I was assured by several that the Duke of Marlborough was a coward and Pope a fool.” — Voltaire.(a)

Both propositions have since been very seriously entertained, quite independently of all party-feeling. That Pope was a fool, indeed, seems to be an established point, at present, with the Crazy-ites — what else shall I call them?(b)


Voltaire) a. See Voltaire, Lettres sur les Anglais in Works of Voltaire (Paris, 1876), 4.41.

call them) b. The “Crazyites” is the invented term that Poe applied to “The Brook-Farm Phalanx” whose organ, The Harbinger, attacked him after the Lyceum (Boston) affair in an article that he reprinted and answered in the BJ, 12/13/45 (H 13.27-32). The Brook Farm cooperative community (1841-47) had a changing constituency, including C. A. Dana, J. S. Dwight, G. W. Curtis, Orestes Brownson, C. P. Cranch, W. E. Channing, and Albert Brisbane, who spread Fourier principles, distasteful to Poe (q.v. in FS 28 and its cross-references). Pope was Poe’s favorite classical poet after Milton and Shakespeare (see K. Campbell, [page 269:] Mind of Poe, p. 175 and citations in PD 74), beloved for his satirical dexterity and technical mastery (see Quinn, Poe, pp. 236, 261).

Marginalia 160

Not long ago I pointed out in “The New-York Mirror,” and more fully, since, in “The Broadway Journal,” a very decided case of similarity between “A Death-Bed,” by Mr. Aldrich, and “The Death-Bed,” by Thomas Hood. The fact is, I thought, and still think, that, in this instance, Mr. A. has been guilty of plagiarism in the first degree.(a) A short piece of his headed “Lines,” is not demonstrably a plagiarism — because there seems scarcely any design of concealing the source — but I quote the poem as evidence of Mr. A’s aptitude at imitation. Leaving the original out of sight, every one would admit the beauty of the parallel:(b)


Underneath this marble cold,

Lies a fair girl turned to mould;

One whose life was like a star,

Without toil or rest to mar

Its divinest harmony —

Its God-given serenity.

One whose form of youthful grace,

One whose eloquence of face

Matched the rarest gem of thought

By the antique sculptors wrought:

Yet her outward charms were less

Than her winning gentleness —

Her maiden purity of heart —

Which, without the aid of art,

Did in coldest hearts inspire

Love that was not all desire.

Spirit forms with starry eyes

That seem to come from Paradise —

Beings of ethereal birth —

Near us glide sometimes on Earth,

Like glimmering moonbeams dimly seen,

Glancing down through alleys green;

Of such was she who lies beneath

This silent effigy of grief.

Wo is me! when I recall

One sweet word by her let fall —

One sweet word but half expressed — [page 270:]

Downcast eyes told all the rest.

To think beneath this marble cold

Lies that fair girl turned to mould.

Imitators are not, necessarily, unoriginal — except at the exact points of the imitation. Mr. Longfellow, decidedly the most audacious imitator in America, is markedly original, or, in other words, imaginative, upon the whole; and many persons have, from the latter branch of the fact, been at a loss to comprehend, and therefore, to believe, the former. Keen sensibility of appreciation — that is to say, the poetic sentiment (in distinction from the poetic power) leads almost inevitably to imitation. Thus all great poets have been gross imitators. It is, however, a mere non distributio medii hence to infer, that all great imitators are poets. Still — what I mean to say is, that Mr. Aldrich’s penchant for imitation does not show him to be incapable of poetry — as some have asserted. It is my own belief that, at some future day, he will distinguish himself as a lyrist.(c)


degree) a. James Aldrich (1810-56), colleague of Parke Benjamin on the New World until March 1844 and editor of other journals, was a poet also of magazine verses (still uncollected), whose sole prominence (he is not in the DAB) lies in Poe’s “Literati” sketch of July 1846 in Godey’s (H 15.62-64), in which Poe fully states his theory of unculpable, appreciative plagiarism, arising from admiration and absorption of inspiring verses. He uses three Aldrich poems, printed also by Griswold in the PPA, in his campaign against Longfellow’s imitativeness — chiefly in the “Outis” affair of 1845 (H 12.42-106). Poe’s charge concerning the poem by Hood might seem to rest more on identity of title than of words or ideas; likewise his far-fetched parallel of “Molly Gray” with Tennyson’s “Lillian” (“Literati” sketch of Aldrich, H 15.6364).

Poe’s refs. in the first sentence are to his articles on plagiarism, chiefly by Longfellow, in the 1/15/45 and 2/17/45 Evening Mirror the first of which Briggs, ed. of the BJ, answered in the 2/15/45 BJ (1.109). He very reasonably argued on the non-similarity of the text — only the titles being alike. Hood’s poem had appeared in the Englishman’s Magazine, 8/1831, and Aldrich’s in the 4/29/41 New World (2.353). Because of the plagiarism-link between Longfellow and Aldrich in Poe’s series of argumentative papers, Aldrich is frequently cited by Poe (see the loci in PD 2).

parallel) b. Poe has left the original so far out of sight as to render it uncertain what it was. Since he connects Hood’s poem with that of Aldrich above, does he imply that “The Bridge of Sighs” inspired this, with its “dead girl” subject, or does Poe imply that the real original is Ben Jonson’s “Epigram XL: ‘On Margaret Ratcliffe“’ which starts:

Marble weep, for thou dost cover

A dead beauty underneath thee; [page 271:]

Rich as nature could bequeath thee:

Grant then, no rude hand remove her.

All the gazers on the skies

Red not in fair heavens story,

Expresses truth, or truer glory,

Than they might in her bright eyes. [etc.]

(Works of Ben Jonson, 1875, Vol. 8, p. 164)

lyrist) c. Non distributio medii is the fallacy of the undistributed middle, which Poe uses in “Purloined Letter” at n15 (TOM 995). Poe may have taken it or been reminded of it by a passage in Stanley (1.133) by Wallace, which gave him many other references: “He has reached the conclusion that all good books are unpopular, and by a very harmless non distributio medii resolved therefrom that all unpopular books, like his own, are good.” The major point of these last two paras. is a brief statement of the concluding portion of “The Longfellow War,” BJ, 4151 45, 1.211-12 (H 12.104-106), as Sidney Moss indicates in Poe’s Literary Battles, p. 179.

In the 1850 Marginalia Poe, via Griswold, severely cut this item (CXXII), dropping the first para. and the quoted “Lines” as well as the last two sentences, so that Longfellow is the sole “imitator” left.

Marginalia 161

There can be no doubt, that up to this period the Bushites have had the best of the battle.(a) The “Anastasis”* is lucidly, succinctly, vigorously, and logically written, and proves, in my opinion, everything that it attempts — provided that we admit the imaginary axioms from which it starts; and this is as much as can be well said of any theological disquisition under the sun. It might be hinted, too, in reference as well to Professor Bush, as to his opponents, “que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu‘elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu‘elles nient.”(b)

Taylor, who wrote so ingeniously the “Natural History of Enthusiasm,” might have derived many a valuable hint from the study of Professor Bush.(c)

* Anastasis, or The Doctrine of the Resurrection; in which it is shown that the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body is not sanctioned by Reason or Revelation.”(d)


battle) a. The entire text of this article is repeated verbatim in the first “Literati” installment in the 5/46 issue of Godey’s where it is also the very first paper (H 15.6-7). Poe explains that the Rev. George Bush [page 272:] (1796-1859), professor of Hebrew in New York University (1831-47), was a prominent Swedenborgian, previously noted for his earlier Treatise on the Millennium. Poe’s interest in this subject is shown in his dialogue tales, “Monos and Una” and “Eiros and Charmion,” but his remark about William Miller, popular resurrectionist of 1843 (H 11. 174), is scornfully incredulous; perhaps his coinage of “Bushites” shows his amused scorn of the group.

nient) b. This learned quotation occurs in four other loci and provides insight into Poe’s habits of and reasons for quotation. Earliest is the Preface to Poems (1831) where, in the fifth para. from the end, he speaks about Coleridge “with reverence. His towering intellect! His gigantic power! He is one more evidence of the fact. To use an author quoted by himself, J‘ai trouv6 souvent que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu‘elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu‘elles nient,’ and, to employ his own language, he has imprisoned his own conceptions by the barrier he has erected against those of others.” Here he implies that this is taken from Coleridge’s citation, as it is: ch. 12 of Biographia Literaria, without a footnote inserted later: “Leibniz, Trois Lettres, XI” (p. 142 of the Everyman’s Library ed, rev. or reëd., 1956, by George Watson), but Poe omits the “tant” right before “en.” In the 8/36 SLM reprint of the “Letter to B ——— ” with some changes, Poe retains the quotation thus: “He is one more evidence of the fact ‘que . . . nient.’ He has imprisoned” etc., 2.502). Poe still does not know the author. Probably he would not have revived the Leibniz sentence save that the 5/26/45 issue of the BJ, 1.326-28, bore Charles Briggs’ review of John M. Mackie’s translation of J. E. Guhrauer, Life of . . . Leibnitz. The long series of excerpts starts off by citing “a letter to De Montserat“to wit: “I have found that the greater number of sects are right in much which they affirm, but not in what they deny.” Poe, as associate editor, would have seen this, in early copy, especially since the next article is his own long review of William Lord’s Poems (1.328-31). The result was Poe’s citing the sentence in the 6/21 BJ, when reviewing Tayler Lewis’ Plato Contra Atheos (1.394; H 12.165) but this time he begins thus: “It would be as well, however, to bear in mind the aphoristic sentence of Leibnitz. . . . . . In his two refs. to the Bushites and their opponents, however, of the “Literati” sketch of 5/46 (H 15.6) and in this article, he judges it a more effective admonition to the sectarians to omit the mild and gentle philosopher’s name which he had learned in 1845, although he might have inferred it from Coleridge’s full para. which initially discussed Leibniz. A little of this complicated matter is touched upon by Floyd Stovall in Edgar Poe the Poet (Charlottesville, 1969), p. 127n2, without his tracing the French to Leibniz.

Bush) c. Isaac Taylor (1787-1865), artist, inventor, and lay preacher, wrote many works, most popular being this one, of 1830. Probably Poe saw the title only in Henry F. Chorley’s Memorials of Mrs. [page 273:] Hemans, which he reviewed with a ref. in the 10/36 SLM (see H 9.195-204, specifically, 203). The para. here is repeated in the sketch of Bush.

Revelation) d. Poe refers to the first ed. of this work (N. Y.,1844) or the second (1845). The Treatise came out in 1832 and The Soul in 1845.

Marginalia 162

A good title to a very respectable book. The endeavor to convey Rome only by those impressions which would naturally be made upon an American, gives the work a certain air of originality — the rarest of all qualities in descriptions of the Eternal City. The style is pure and sparkling, although occasionally flippant and dilettantesque. The tone of remark is much in the usual way — selon les règles — never very exceptionable, and certainly never very profound.

 “Rome, as seen by a New-Yorker” — by William M. Gillespie.


Note: Gillespie (1816-68), evidently well known personally to Poe, was given a “Literati” portrait in the 5/46 Godey’s (H 15.19-20) which repeats this article verbatim and adds details about his new appointment in civil engineering to Union College (‘45-68), his skill in languages, and his nervous mannerisms. His Wiley and Putnam book of 1845 (to the title of which is to be added “in 1843-44”) was given a long review by Briggs in the 2/15/45 BJ, with two long excerpts that support Poe’s evaluation. His coinage “dilletantesque,” signalled as such by the italics, appears also in the full “Literati” sketch, which also speaks of his journalistic activities.

Marginalia 163

I never read a personally abusive paragraph in the newspapers, without calling to mind the pertinent query propounded by Johnson to Goldsmith: — “My dear Doctor, what harm does it do a man to call him Holofernes?”


Note: Poe took this, almost exactly, from Thomas Macaulay’s citation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson in John Wilson Croker’s 1831 edition, which Macaulay reviewed in the 9/31 Edinburgh Review (q.v. in Lord Macaulay’s Essays (London 1886): “My dear doctor . . . what harm does it do to a man to call him Holofernes?” (p. 183). Johnson surely referred to the pedantic schoolmaster of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost rather than to the general, heroically slain by Judith of Bethulia. [page 274:]

Marginalia 164

“The artist belongs to his work, not the work to the artist.” — Novalis(a)

In nine cases out of ten it is pure waste of time to attempt extorting sense from a German apophthegm; — or, rather, any sense and every sense may be extorted from all of them. If, in the sentence above quoted, the intention is to assert that the artist is the slave of his theme, and must conform to it his thoughts, I have no faith in the idea, which appears to me that of an essentially prosaic intellect. In the hands of the true artist the theme, or “work,” is but a mass of clay, of which anything (within the compass of the mass and quality of the clay) may be fashioned at will, or according to the skill of the workman. The clay is, in fact, the slave of the artist. It belongs to him. His genius, to be sure, is manifested, very distinctively, in the choice of the clay. It should be neither fine nor coarse, abstractly — but just so fine or so coarse — just so plastic or so rigid — as may best serve the purposes of the thing to be wrought — of the idea to be made out, or, more exactly, of the impression to be conveyed. There are artists, however, who fancy only the finest material, and who, consequently, produce only the finest ware. It is generally very transparent and excessively brittle.(b)

 The nom de plume of Von Hardenburgh (sic).


Novalis) a. Poe took this from Sarah T. Austin’s translation of Fragments from German Prose Writers. With Biographical Sketches of the Authors (New York, 1841; pirated ed. of 1841 London ed.), p. 38, having reviewed the work in the 12/41 Graham’s (18.306) in one paragraph (uncollected). One of his five sentences explains, perhaps, why he borrowed several “scraps” for important “inserts” (e.g., the motto of “Marie Roger,” TOM 774, motto n and 946 at n13): “These scraps embody specimens of every variety of the prose literature of Germany — convey, in petto [sic], its whole soul.” “Novalis“was the pseudonym of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801), from whose “Moralische Ansichten” Sarah Austin included translated excerpts.

brittle) b. Poe’s deprecation of such apothegms as that of Novalis belies his citing them as well, with here a seeming contradiction of his frequent praise and use of Michelangelo’s “couplet” (see M 79).

Marginalia 165

I have not the slightest faith in Carlyle. In ten years — possibly in five — he will be remembered only as a butt for sarcasm.(a) His linguistic Euphuisms might very well have been taken as primâ facie evidence of [page 275:] his philosophic ones; they were the froth which indicated, first, the shallowness, and secondly, the confusion of the waters. I would blame no man of sense for leaving the works of Carlyle unread, merely on account of these Euphuisms; for it might be shown à priori, that no man capable of producing a definite impression upon his age or race, could or would commit himself to such inanities and insanities.(b) The book about “Hero-Worship” — is it possible that it ever excited a feeling beyond contempt? No hero-worshipper can possess anything within himself. That man is no man who stands in awe of his fellow-man. Genius regards genius with respect — with even enthusiastic admiration — but there is nothing of worship in the admiration, for it springs from a thorough cognizance of the one admired — from a perfect sympathy, the result of this cognizance; and it is needless to say, that sympathy and worship are antagonistic. Your hero-worshippers — your Shakspeare worshippers, for example — what do they know about Shakspeare? They worship himrant about him — lecture about him — about him, him, and nothing elsefor no other reason than that he is utterly beyond their comprehension. They have arrived at an idea of his greatness from the pertinacity with which men have called him great. As for their own opinion about him-they really have none at all. In general, the very smallest of mankind are the class of men-worshippers. Not one out of this class has ever accomplished anything beyond a very contemptible mediocrity.(c)

Carlyle, however, has rendered an important service (to posterity, at least) in pushing rant and cant to that degree of excess which inevitably induces reaction. Had he not appeared, we might have gone on for yet another century. Emerson-izing in prose, Wordsworth-izing in poetry, and Fourier-izing in philosophy, Wilson-izing in criticism — Hudson-izing and Tom O‘Bedlam-izing in everything.(d) The author of the “Sartor Resartus,” however, has overthrown the various arguments of his own order, by a personal reductio ad absurdum. Yet an Olympiad, perhaps, and the whole horde will be swept bodily from the memory of manor be remembered only when we have occasion to talk of such fantastic tricks as, erewhile, were performed by the Abderites.(e)


sarcasm) a. Of more than twenty separate small and large passages on Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) by Poe most of them are adverse and sarcastic, thanks to Carlyle’s fondness for “great men” as determinants of historical progress, his Germanic mysticism, his eccentric and obscure style and mannerisms, his great although somewhat equivocal leadership among the British literati, and his early and deeply-rooted friendship with Emerson (see para. 2). Yet Poe probably read with care only Sartor Resartus, which he elsewhere derided, mentioned, and borrowed from; for loci, see PD, p. 165 and TOM, index 1417: “Carlyle”; see also M Intro. MM 13, 29, 135, 188, 255, 289. [page 276:]

insanities) b. This rhyming phrase underscores his detestation of Carlyle’s “affected style” in applying “Euphuisms” (para. 1); in this Poe is following Scott’s use for Sir Pierce Shafton, the Euphuist, in The Monastery, which Poe had reviewed in 1835 (H 8.64).

mediocrity) c. Sartor Resartus, unsuccessful in Fraser’s Magazine, appeared first as a book in an 1836 New York edition (London 1838). His 1840 lectures on the hero came out in 1841 (London) as On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. One may surmise Poe’s delving only into the earlier work, despite his paralleling Carlyle’s word coinage with his own “men-worshippers” and his scorn in this, his sole reference to the book. The first paragraph of the 1831 prefatory “Letter to B ——— ” of the Poems takes up the seeming problem of the adopted opinion — not judgment — of Shakespeare held by uncreative, uncritical ordinary men (reprinted in the 6/36 SLM).

everything) d. Poe’s rhetoric of indignation uses another rhyme in “rant and cant” as above, a phrase which is popular with him. Similarly indignant is the effect of his conversion of proper nouns into verbs, part of his many such conversions, as shown in section III of PCW, pp. 7079, 83-88. Few need any explanation, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or William Wordsworth. François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Utopian socialist of France, was regarded by Poe as a major inspiration for the Crazyites (see M 159) of Brook Farm and other “phalansteries” and followers of the “credulous” (led by Horace Greeley, q.v. in FS 28); see also Eureka (H 16.294) and TOM 1306n12. For Hudson see M 146. For “Tom O‘Bedlam” see note to the motto of “Eldorado” (TOM, Poems 462) and also Imaginary Voyages, p. 458nA to Motto, with CL as original source.

Abderites) e. An Olympiad is the interval between Olympic Games, i.e., four years, shorter even than the interval with which he opened the article. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, 2.2.121, provides “fantastic tricks” in a passage which also inspires part of “The Conqueror Worm” (see Pollin, Explicator, 1982, 40.25-28). See M 3 for the same use of Abderian mass-madness, taken from Bayle’s article in the Dictionary, using a less common form of the proper noun than here.

Marginalia 166

I cannot help thinking Doctor Cheever’s* “Common-Place-Book of American Poetry” a most injudicious selection — its taste tending entirely toward the didactic. It has the merit, however, of not belying its title, and is excessively common-place.(a) Poets are by no means .necessarily, judges of poetry, but nothing is more certain than that, to be a judge [page 277:] of poetry, it is necessary to have at least the poetic sentiment, if not the poetic power — the “vision,” if not “the faculty divine.”(b) Dr. Cheever, very evidently, has neither. I have now before me one of the most commendable pieces of verse which I have seen from his pen, and quote from it its best quatrain, which is undeniably forcible and pointed in expression:

A life all ease is all abused: —

O, precious grace that made thee wise

To know; — affliction, rightly used,

Is mercy in disguise.

The greater part of the poem, however, (which consists of thirty-eight quatrains) jogs along thus:

Those duties were love’s natural sphere:

Our drooping flower I cherished so

That still the more it asked my care

The dearer still it grew.(c)

* The Reverend George B. Cheever, of New-York; author of “Deacon Giles’ Distillery,” (a brochure which, at the epoch of its publication, produced much excitement,) “God’s Hand in America,” “Travels in the East,” and a “Defence of Capital Punishment.” The last named has not been long published. In some respects, it is well reasoned. Its chief data, however, (in common with all which I have yet seen on this vexata qu[a]estio) are the merest assumptions. Authority is obstinately insisted upon, which nine-tenths of the thinking portion of the civilized world deny, either openly or at heart, to be any authority at all.


common-place) a. The 6/46 “Literati” papers include a sketch of Cheever (1807-90), Congregationalist minister and temperance reformer (H 15.32-33), which is essentially this article rearranged and stripped of the example of the verse. Poe probably changed the title slightly for satire from “The Commonplace Book of American Poetry” as he has it in the “Literati.” The “excitement” over the pamphlet, as he puts it in his footnote, involved a publication of Cheever as minister in Salem, when Deacon John Stone, a Unitarian, sued Cheever for libel over “Inquiry at Amos Giles’ Distillery” in the 1/31/35 Salem Landmark, with a resultant month’s imprisonment and resignation by Cheever along with his being assaulted by rowdies and his removal to New York. The 3/13/35 Cincinnati Journal (7.44) carried data and the whole article, which subsequently was reprinted as a “brochure,” extending to an 1848 edition (titled “The Dream”) and preceding the 1841 God’s Hand and the 1846 Wanderings of a Pilgrim (two travel accounts) and Defence (which includes an 1843 shorter polemic on the subject).

divine) b. See M 118 for Poe’s earlier sentiments on this subject. Poe is deriving his quotation from The Excursion, 1.77-80: “Oh! many are the Poets that are sown / By Nature; men endowed with highest [page 278:] gifts, / The vision and the faculty divine; / Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse.”

grew) c. The two quatrains, stanzas 30 and 17, are taken from Griswold’s anthology PPA of 1842, pp. 444-45, with Poe’s change in punctuation and “those” for the original “these,” in “To my sick and suffering brother, on his fifteenth birthday.”

Marginalia 167

As a descriptive poet, Mr. Street is to be highly commended. He not only describes with force and fidelity — giving us a clear conception of the thing described — but never describes what, to the poet, should be nondescript. He appears, however, not at any time to have been aware that mere description is not poetry at all. We demand creation — ποιησις. About Mr. Street there seems to be no spirit. He is all matter — substance — what the chemists would call “simple substance” — and exceedingly simple it is.


Note: Alfred B. Street (1811-1881), poet, journalist, lawyer, and New York State librarian at Albany, was discussed in three other passages: as a talented imitator of Bryant’s descriptive poetry, in the 1/42 Graham’s “Autography: Appendix”; likewise in FS 38; and as a weak prosodist in “Rationale of Verse” (H 14.255-56). Poe’s Greek-word allusion comes from the passage in Bielfeld’s Premiers Traits cited in Pin 153 and M 152.

Marginalia 168

As a commentator, Professor Anthon has evinced powers very unusual in men who devote their lives to the hortus siccus of classical lore. He has ventured to dismiss the pedant and look en homme du monde upon some of the most valued of the literary monuments of antiquity.(a) The abundant Notes to his Classics will do him lasting honor among all who are qualified to give an opinion of his labors, or whose good word and will he would be likely to consider as worth having. His accuracy is extreme. I would stand by his decision, in any mere matter of classical fact, in preference to that of any man in Europe, or elsewhere. Some time ago, an attempt was made to injure his reputation by a charge of plagiarism, instituted in reference to his most important work, the Classical Dictionary; and urged against such a book, the accusation, from its mere silliness, was not easily rebutted. The Classical Dictionary is little [page 279:] more than a summary of facts, and these facts are the common property of mankind. Professor Anthon’s accusers would have acted with equal wisdom in charging Legendre with robbing Euclid. The multitudinous quotations of the Classical Dictionary are made verbatim (unless where difference of opinion has induced alteration) without that attempt at giving the extracted matter an air of originality by merely re-writing it, which is but too common among compilers. And for this virtue he has been reviled. No doubt he would have given more satisfaction, in certain quarters, had he thought more of his own merely literary reputation, and kept his eye less steadily fixed on the true purpose of compilations such as he has undertaken — for the purpose of making a useful book. His talents, nevertheless, have long ago placed him in a position at which he is left free to pursue this good purpose in his own manner, without fear of injuring his character as an original writer, in the opinion of any one having sense enough to understand that there is a point at which originality ceases to be a matter for commendation.(b)

The only noticeable demerit of Professor Anthon is diffuseness, sometimes running into Johnsonism, of style. The best specimen of his manner is to be found in an analysis of the Life and Writings of Cicero, prefacing an edition of the orator’s Select Orations. This analysis occupies about forty pages of the book, and is so peculiarly Ciceronian, in point of fullness, and in other points, that I have sometimes thought it an intended imitation of the Brutus, sive de Claris Oratoribus.(c)


antiquity) a. Poe ascribes an uncommon derived meaning to “hortus siccus” (“dry garden” or collection of plants that are dried), namely, “dry and uninteresting details” (q.v. in Riley, p.155). The French term, “as a man of the world,” may refer also to Anthon’s immaculate dress, his “bonhomie” and “distingué” air and general punctiliousness (see H 15.34-36). The first three sentences here reword slightly Poe’s review of 1137 (see below). For a good summary of the life of the eminent, highly respected, prolific, and assiduous professor of classics at Columbia University, Charles Anthon (1797-1867), see the DAB account as well as Poe’s articles (see PD 4). Indebted to Anthon for his Hebrew-lore missive (see M 115), used for the rev. of Stephens’ travel book in the New York Review, Poe always lauded Anthon.

commendation) b. Anthon’s Classical Dictionary was based on Lemprière’s, dropping the name of that source only with the 1842 or third edition. The charge of borrowing and of plagiarism, patently false as Poe properly says, is discussed in the Democratic Review of 1841 (9.133, 304, 360). Poe’s lengthier defense in the “Literati” article curiously argues that the failure to rewrite borrowed passages precludes any charge of plagiarism — as was true of his “Pinakidia” and many of his “Marginalia ” entries. Adrien Marie Legendre (1752-1833), celebrated French [page 280:] mathematician, worked for his government on measuring a degree of latitude, in 1787. Poe studied his text at West Point.

Oratoribus) c. Poe’s very full review of Anthon’s edition of Sallust, in the 5/36 SLM, 2.292-93, was not collected by Harrison, who did include his review of Cicero’s Orations in the 1/37 SLM, where he comments particularly on the Brutus or Treatise Concerning the renowned orators. “Johnsonism” is Poe’s coinage (see also H 9.159, 15.180) for the older “Johnsonianism.”

Marginalia 169

With the aid of a lantern, I have been looking again at “Niagara and other Poems” (Lord only knows if that be the true title) — but “there’s nothing in it:” — at least nothing of Mr. Lord’s own — nothing which is not stolen — or, (more delicately,) transfused — transmitted.(a) By the way, Newton says a great deal about “fits of easy transmission and reflection,”* and I have no doubt that “Niagara” was put together in one of these identical fits.

* Of the solar rays — in the “Optics.”(b)


transmitted) a. William Wilberforce Lord (1819-1907), once tutor at Amherst, author of Poems (1845) and two later volumes, friend of the Knickerbocker magazine group, and Episcopalian clergyman serving in the Confederate army, invariably stirred Poe’s critical ire (see especially H 12.146-61, 15.76; also M 214). Poe’s humor here is parallel to his mockery, A la Diogenes, in the 11/1/45 BJ editorial on Miss Walters of the Boston Transcript after his Lyceum reading: “We have been looking all over her article with the aid of a taper, to see if we could discover a single syllable of truth in it — and really blush to acknowledge that we cannot” (2.261-62). William Lord’s “thefts” were detailed in the 5/24/45 BJ rev. of Lord’s poems, q.v. in M 214.

Optics) b. It is difficult to believe that Poe saw, at first hand, Isaac Newton’s book, from which he derives his final quip: Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Influxions and Colours of Light (London, 1704; first ed.), Prop. XII: “The returns of the dispositions of any ray to be reflected I will call its FITS OF EASY REFLEXION, and those of its disposition to be transmitted its FITS OF EASY TRANSMISSION, and the space it passes between every return and the next return, the INTERVAL OF ITS FITS” (p. 81).






[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 06)