Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 07,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 281-291 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 281:]


United States Magazine, and Democratic Review

July 1846 XIX, 30-32


By Edgar A. Poe.

[6 items, nos. 170-175]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia 170

Gênes dans ce temps achetait tout le blé de l‘Europe.”

For an hour I have been endeavoring, without success, to make out the meaning of this passage — which I find in a French translation of Lady Morgan’s “Letters on Italy.” I could not conceive how or why all the corn of Europe should have been bought, or what corn, in any shape, had to do with the matter at issue. Procuring the original work, after some trouble, I read that “the Genoese, at this period, bought the scorn of all Europe by,” etc., etc. Now, here the translator is by no means so much in fault as Lady Morgan, who is too prone to commit sin with the verbum insolens. I can see no force, here, in the unusuality of “bought,” as applied to scorn — (although there are cases in which the expression would be very appropriate) — and cannot condemn the Frenchman for supposing the s a superfluity and a misprint.


Note: Lady Morgan (1783-1859), nee Sydney Owenson, was well known first for her romance of Irish life, The Wild Irish Girl (1806), followed by others in the same vein. Then her books on France (1817) and Italy (1821) added to her popularity. Poe indicated his dissent, perhaps, in the “Introduction” to the abortive collection of “The Folio Club”: “I went . . . to the house of Mr. Rouge-et-Noir who admires Lady Morgan, and whose Tale was condemned at the previous monthly meeting” (H 2.xxxviii). Poe’s distaste for her language is at the root of this [page 282:] bilingual inadvertent pun, which it is difficult now to verify, for there are few copies of the book in its French version available throughout the U. S. A. and they “do not travel.” L‘Italie (Paris: Pierre Dufart, 1821), 4 volumes, was skimmed for me in the Harvard University Library, but the chapter on Genoa (II, ch. xi, pp. 54-109) and that on “Genoese Society” (ch. xii, 110-141) have not revealed the presence of this sentence. Checking through the London edition in English has not revealed it in English. Can Poe have devised the error, as a joke, and written it up thus?

Marginalia 171

There is(a) a double entendre in the old adage about Truth in a Well; but, taking the profundity of Truth as at least one of the meanings — understanding it to be implied that correct ideas on any topic are to be fished up only from great depths and that to have common sense it is necessary to be abysmal — this being taken as the moral of the adage, I have my objections on the spot. The profundity of which so much is said, lies more frequently in the places where we seek Truth than in those where we find her.(b) Just as the moderately-sized shop-signs are better adapted to their object than those which are Brobdignagian, so, in at least three cases out of seven, is a fact (but especially a reason) overlooked solely on account of being excessively obvious. It is almost impossible, too, to see a thing that lies immediately beneath one’s nose.(c)

I may be wrong — and no doubt I am — still it is a fancy of mine that much of what people call profundity has been fairly thrown away on that ever-recurring topic, the decline of the drama.

Were the question demanded of me — “Why has the drama declined?” my answer should be — “It has not; it has only been left out of sight by every thing else.” The dramatic art, more than any other, is essentially imitative, and thus engenders and keeps alive in its votaries the imitative propensity, as well as the imitative power. Hence one drama is apt to be fashioned too nearly after another — the dramatist of to-day is prone to step too closely in the foot-prints of the dramatist of yesterday. In a word there is less originality-less independence-less thoughtless reference to principles — less effort to keep up with the general movement of the time-more supineness — more bullet-headedness(d) — more rank and arrant conventionality in the drama than in any other single thing in existence which aspires to the dignity of Art. This spirit of imitation, developed in adherence to old, and therefore to uncouth models, has not, indeed, caused the drama to “decline,” but has overthrown it by not permitting it to soar. While every other art* has kept [page 283:] pace with the thinking and improving spirit of the age, it alone has remained stationary, prating about Æschylus and the Chorus, or mouthing Euphuism because “the Old English masters” have thought proper to mouth it before.(e) Let us imagine Bulwer to-day presenting us a novel after the model of the old novelists, or as nearly on their plan as “The Hunchback” is on the plan of “Ferrex and Porrex:” — let him write us a “Grand Cyrus,” and what should we do with it, and what should we think of its inditer? And yet this “Grand Cyrus” was a very admirable work in its day.(f)

The fact is, the drama is not now supported, for the simple reason that it does not deserve support. We must burn or bury the old models. We need Art, as Art is now beginning to be understood: — that is to say, in place of absurd conventionalities we demand principles founded in Nature and in common sense. The common sense even of the mob, can no longer be affronted, night after night, with impunity. If, for example, a play-wright will persist in making a hero deliver on the stage a soliloquy such as was soliloquized by no human being in ordinary life — ranting transcendentalism at the audience as nothing conceivable ever before ranted, short of a Piankitank candidate for Congress-splitting the ears of the house and endangering the lives of the orchestra,(g) the while that a confidential friend who holds him by the shoulder is supposed not to hear a syllable of all that is said: — if the play-wright, I say, will persist in perpetrating these atrocities, and a hundred worse, for no better reason than that there were people simple enough to perpetrate them five hundred years ago — if he will do this, and will not do anything else to the end of time — what right has he, I demand, to look any honest man in the face, and talk to him about what he calls “the decline of the drama?”

* Sculpture, perhaps, excepted.


There is) a. This entire article is a reprint, with some minor changes, of Poe’s column in the New York Evening Mirror of 1/9/45, p. 214 (Weekly Mirror, 1/18/45), under the title: “Does the Drama of the day deserve support?” The Mirror text differs as follows:

universal profundity; taken for granted; adage, then we have our; upon the spot; It is our invincible belief that the profundity; five / seven; facto or a reason; is / lies; (para. 2): We may be / I may be; we are / I am; call abstruseness; (para. 3): Were we asked the question,; has not; too precisely I too closely; word, / word; Art. para.; suffering I permitting; art* / asterisk and footnote omitted; before. para.; a novel / a novel; Porrex.” / Porrex:” — ; Cyrus,” — / Cyrus,”; (para. 4): principles of dramatic composition; Nature,; playwright; deliver a soliloquy [page 284:] upon the stage, such as no human being ever soliloquised in ordinary life, — ; house,; we say; infinitely worse,; of Time; we demand

In M 131 Poe has treated the same general topic, taken up some of the same phrases, and found the drama to be “advancing,” although slowly, rather than stationary, as here. In his rev. of Mrs. Mowatt’s new comedy Fashion, in the 4/29/45 BJ, Poe elaborated these ideas (see H 12.117-120), especially concerning old-fashioned conventions; likewise in his long article on “The American Drama” in the 8/45 Am. Whig Review (H 13.33-73, specifically, 34-35).

find her) b. Poe may have derived this much used allusion from the article on Democritus in Rees’s Cyclopaedia (1819), q.v. in TOM 332n10 to “Ligeia.” It appears in his “Letter to B———,” “Rue Morgue” (see n. 29), “Maelström” motto, in which Joseph Glanvill, Essays, enters the provenance (TOM 594), and his 3/42 Graham’s rev. of Charles O‘Malley (H 11.89).

nose) c. Poe greatly admired Swift as a stylist and satirist, alluding to him favorably almost a dozen times (PD 89), q.v. in Pollin, Notes and Queries, 1973, 218.244-46. Poe was charmed by varying perspectives as affecting estimates of size (as in “The Sphinx”) and knew “Gulliver’s Travels” well, although Brobdingnag, land of things gigantic, has here lost its first “n” — a widespread error. The last sentence here surely describes the dilemma of the Prefect in “The Purloined Letter.”

bullet-headedness) d. Poe uses his coinage also in M 52. This strong critical term, modified, was used extensively in “X-ing a Paragrab” and entered “Mellonta Tanta” (TOM 1290/1).

mouth it before) e. Poe’s removal of the footnote showed his continuing indecisions about progress uniformly in all the arts, q.v. in M 131, “Monos and Una” (TOM 609-610) and “Arnheim” (1274-76). Poe’s meaning for “Euphuism” is “affectedly elegant style of speech” after John Lyly’s character, rather than an expression, as is more common.

its day) f. Poe frequently discussed Edward Bulwer Lytton for his plays, poems, essays, and novels (see MM 49, 77, 80, 117, 221, etc. via the Index, PD and Index to TOM). He represented the latest style, as in Pelham and Ernest Maltravers. James Sheridan Knowles (1784-1862) wrote The Hunchback (1832), which was long popular, among his other plays and varied publications. Poe used his revised Every Man in His Humor (Ben Jonson) for the motto to “Mystification” (TOM 292 and motto n on 304). In his 8/45 “Am. Drama” article (H 13.36) Poe devotes a para. to details of the slavish imitation of early drama in The Hunchback. The early play, usually known as Gorboduc (1561), was by Thomas Norton and T. Sackville, and lifelessly applied Senecan tragic form to the legendary chronicles of Britain. The ten volume heroic romance of Madeleine de Scudery (1607-1721), titled Artamène, ou le Grand Cyrus (1649-53), [page 285:] became immensely popular in English translation, and reached the stage in John Banks’ 1696 version.

orchestra) g. The political term “Piankitank,” clearly crude or rustic, is given by Mitford Mathews (Dictionary of Americanisms) only as the name of an Indian tribe, numbering 200 in 1608, and of the Virginia river of their habitat. The “ears” that are “split” are those of “the groundlings” originally in Hamlet’s advice to the players (2.2), while his term “orchestra” may have been chosen not only for their theatrical area but also for the Greek theatre space coming from his Aeschylus allusion. Hamlet was Poe’s favorite play by Shakespeare, shown by over fifty refs. (q.v. in “Poe and Shakespeare” by Pollin in SAR 1985)

Marginalia 172

The Alphadelphia Tocsin!* — (Phœbus, what a name to fill the sounding trump of future fame!(a)) and “devoted to the interest of the laboring classes!” — by which, I presume, are intended the classes who have to pronounce, every morning, the great appellation of the paper itself. Such a work should not want editors, and accordingly we are informed that it has eight. What on earth is the meaning of Alphadelphia? Is the “Alphadelphia Tocsin” the tocsin of the city of the double A’s? — if so, the idea is too easily slipped into that of the A double S.(b)

* Title of a new journal published at Alphadelphia, Michigan.


fame) a. Poe’s highly appropriate parenthetical quotation is taken from Byron’s English Bards (11. 399-400) which starts: “Oh, Amos Cottle!” and has “speaking trump” for Poe’s adjective. (See PD 124 for four other refs.) The entire item was written first by Poe, as a “mechanical paragraphist,” for the Evening Mirror of 1/11/45 (1, no. 82) and reprinted in the Weekly Mirror of 1/18/45 (1:227, no. 15).

double S) b. Poe must have disliked not only the pretentious name of the paper but also its being the organ of the Fourierite “Phalanx,” set up on 12/14/43 by a group of 56 under Dr. H. R. Schetterly of Ann Arbor, as leader, in Comstock township, Kalamazoo County, Michigan (lasting until 4/30/48; see TOM 1368). For Poe’s antipathy to the Fourier movement, see M 165, FS 10, FS 28, and PD 34, 36. (“Furrier”). The En. Brit. (6.793) claims that, aside from “phalansteries” in states further east, this one in Michigan was the best known (with over 40 started in America). The “communist” or “labor bias” is evidenced by Poe’s remarks; no copies of the paper survive (see TOM 1368n for information sources). Poe’s amusement over the name probably suggested the “Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis Gazette” in “X-ing a Paragrab,” as TOM indicates. Poe knew the literal roots of the name from Philadelphia: “alpha” [page 286:] for the letter, also meaning “chief” or “main” or “first of” and “adelphos” meaning “brother,” comprising “the city of the leading brethren” or “the chief city of brothers.” Surely, the paper must have made it clearer, but Poe was pleased to apply his favorite epithet to the organ of such a community (see M 145, ad fin. and H 18.270).

Marginalia 173

I fully agree with Simms (W. Gilmore) that the Provençal troubadour had, in his melodious vocabulary, no title more appropriate than the Cuban “Areytos” for a collection of tender or passionate songs — such as we have here.(a)

Passages such as this are worthy of the author of “Martin Faber:” —

Soft, O how softly sleeping,

Shadowed by beauty, she lies —

Dreams as of rapture creeping,

Smile by smile, over her eyes.(b)

And this, in reference to a ship becalmed, is natural and forcible:

A world, from all the world apart,

Chained idly on the sea!

How droops the eye — how sinks the heart,

Vain wishing to be free!

How dread the fear that fills the thought,

That winds may never rise

To waft us from this weary spot

Beneath these burning skies!(c)

This again is exceedingly spirited: —

Now are the winds about us in their glee,

Tossing the slender tree;

Whirling the sands about his furious car

March cometh from afar,

Breaks the sealed magic of old Winter’s dreams

And rends his glassy streams.(d)

By the way, how happens it, in the melodious stanza which follows, (taken from an “Indian Serenade”) that the sonorous Samana has been set aside for the far less musical and less effective Bonita?

‘Tis the wail for life they waken

By Bonita’s silver shore —

With the tempest it is shaken: —

The wide ocean is in motion,

And the song is heard no more. [page 287:]

When in the mouth of Vasco Nunez, in “The Damsel of Darien” (its author’s least meritorious novel, by the bye) the like originally ran,

By Samana’s yielding shore.

Sounding shore would have been still better. Altogether I prefer this “Indian Serenade” to any of Mr. Simms’ poems.(e)

These and other imitations, however, are but the inevitable sins of the youth of genius — which invariably — begins its career by imitationan imitation, nevertheless, interspersed with vivid originality. I think I have before observed that, in letters, a copyist is, as a general rule, by no means necessarily unoriginal, except at the exact points of the copy. Mr. Simms is, beyond doubt, one of our most original writers.(f)

 “Areytos, or Songs of the South.”


have here) a. The poems collected in this volume, Areytos; or, Songs of the South (Charleston, 1846), include some not found in other collections by Simms, taken from his novels and magazines. The title (incorrectly spelled in the footnote originally) is, indeed, given by the Vox dictionary of the Spanish language (Barcelona, 1973) as follows (with the alternate spelling of “areito”): “song of the Indians of the Antilles and Central America, handed down from of old, and the dance that went with this song” (my translation). Poe’s source for para. 1 is Simms’ “Advertisement” (pp. v-vi): The word “Areytos” “is quite as worthy of use, and is as significant, as any in the poetical dialects of Oc and Ou. The Provençal Troubador had none more appropriate for such a collection in all his melodious vocabulary.”

eyes) b. Poe had extreme admiration for William Gilmore Simms’ novel, Martin Faber, first a short story of 1828, elaborated into a novel in 1829 and revised in 1832 — much in the Godwinian and Miserrimus style (see DP 196). The stanza is quoted from “The First Dream of Love,” p. 39, unchanged save for the italics added and loss of total capitals for the first word.

skies) c. This is the second of the four stanzas of “Calm at Sea,” pp. 44-45, quoted correctly save for added italics and changes in accidentals.

streams) d. This is correctly quoted from “Song in March,” p. 63, save for changes in some accidentals; it is the first of two stanzas, with four lines omitted.

poems) e. Poe seemed captivated by Simms’ “Indian Serenade,” all eight stanzas of which he quoted in his review of the novel in BGM of 11/39 (H 10.49-56), with considerable, although not unreserved praise, by contrast with the present deprecation. See also, his praise of the poem in M 106. TOM justly traces 11. 72-75 of “The Bells” to st. 3, which he quotes (Poems 440). Poe must have enjoyed the medial rhyme in the [page 288:] penultimate line of each stanza (e.g., “And hearts shiver, as they quiver, / With a wild and sad delight”). Poe’s “improvement” of the line by Simms puts it in the category of “collaborative” efforts, save that Pope set the phrase first in his Essay on Criticism, 1. 368: “But when loud surges lash the sounding shore.” Poe chides Simms for changing the proper name to “Bonita,” but Simms may have done it for the sake of correct pronunciation in the two instances where it occurs in the poem (st. 4 and st. 8), without any accent, but requiring that it be sounded “Samana.” In reality, it is the much-used name of geographical features of the important province on the eastern (Spanish) part of the island of Hispaniola or Santo Domingo, but always with the accent on the last syllable (“Samana”). Perhaps Simms, discovering this after 1839, substituted the fictive name “Bonita” with the implied accent on the second syllable, as required by the meter in both stanzas. Poe, with a minimal grasp of Spanish, seems not to have thought of this possibility. (Simms’ failure to put the tilde over the “n” in “Nunez” may derive from his recognition of American type font inadequacy, not ignorance.)

writers) f. In adapting M 106 and the 1839 review for this article, Poe seems to have forgotten the continuity of his comments, which do not here concern “imitations” although his Damsel of Darien review does (H 10.53): “The leading sin is . . . imitation — the entire absence of originality. . . . perceptible in higher particulars. . . . headings of chapters. . . . characters.” Now, at least, Poe implies the excuse for borrowing offered for sensitive, appreciative, remembering poets in M 139B.

Marginalia 174

It is really difficult to conceive what must have been the morbidity of the German intellect, or taste, when it not only tolerated but truly admired and enthusiastically applauded such an affair as “The Sorrows of Werter.” The German approbation was, clearly, in good faith: as for our own, or that of the English, it was the quintessence of affectation. Yet we did our best, as in duty bound, to work ourselves up into the fitting mood.(a) The title, by the way, is mistranslated: — Leiden [sic] does not mean Sorrows but Sufferings.(b)


mood) a. Poe’s deprecation of the “German intellect, or taste” as “morbid,” here should be placed against his Preface to the Tales of 1840 (that is, 11/39) disavowing “‘Germanism’ and gloom” in his stories (TOM 473). Implicitly Carlyle is considered the leader of the enthusiasts in England and his friend Emerson, in America.

Sufferings) b. Poe had deprecated Goethe’s novel about Werther earlier in the 11/38 version of the “Blackwood Article” (TOM 342) in a passage which scornfully later substitutes The Dial and separately “Coleridge’s [page 289:] Table-Talk” as pretentious and dull. There Poe’s spelling of “Werther” is standard unlike his “Leiden” here and also in the same ref. in “Von Kempelen” (TOM 1360), where he adds to his misspelling of “Leiden” an incorrect small letter to begin the substantive. (However, a brief survey of the NYPL catalogue reveals over a half dozen titles with “Werter” in the English translations, especially for the first seventy-five years after publication.) Poe borrowed this bit of “learning” from Sarah Austin’s translation of PĆ¼ckler-Muskau’s Tour (1833), p. 388 (TOM 1366n12), this being Poe’s source for many bits of Germanic erudition (see Index); however, her distinction between “sorrows” and “sufferings” is not upheld in lexicons and Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) is universally so translated.

Marginalia 175

The works of Christopher Pea[r]se Cranch are slightly tinged with the spirit of mixed Puritanism, utilitarianism, and transcendentalism, which seems to form the poetical atmosphere of Massachusetts — but, dismissing this one sin, are among the truest of American poetry.(a) I know nothing finer of its kind (and that kind is a most comprehensive one) than one of his shorter pieces entitled,


Many are the thoughts that come to me

In my lonely musing;

And they drift so strange and swift

There’s no time for choosing

Which to follow — for to leave

Any seems a losing.


When they come, they come in flocks,

As, on glancing feather,

Startled birds rise, one by one,

In autumnal weather,

Waking one another up

From the sheltering heather.


Some so merry that I laugh;

Some are grave and serious;

Some so trite, their last approach

Is enough to weary us:

Others flit like midnight ghosts,

Shrouded and mysterious.


There are thoughts that o‘er me steal,

Like the day when dawning;

Great thoughts winged with melody, [page 290:]

Common utterance scorning;

Moving in an inward tune

And an inward morning.


Some have dark and drooping wings,

Children all of sorrow;

Some are as gay, as if to day

Could see no cloudy morrow —

And yet, like light and shade, they each

Must from the other borrow.


One by one they come to me

On their destined mission;

One by one I see them fade

With no hopeless vision —

For they‘ve led me on a step

To their home Elysian.(b)

There is, here, a great deal of natural fancy — I mean to say that the images are such as would naturally arise in the mind of an imaginative and educated man, seeking to describe his “thoughts.” But the main charm of the poem is the nice, and at the same time, bold art of its rhythm. Here is no merely negative merit, but much of originality — or, if not precisely that, at least much of freshness and spirit. The opening line, barring an error to be presently mentioned, is very skilful — and, to me, the result is not less novel than happy. The general idea is merely a succession of trochees (for the long syllable, or cæsura proper, at the end of each odd line, is a trochee’s equivalent) but, in lieu of a trochee, at the commencement of the opening verse, we have a trochee and a pyrrhic (forming the compound foot called, in Latin, Pæon primus, and in Greek, αστρολογος(c)) Here is a very bold excess of two short syllables — and the result would be highly pleasurable if the reader were prepared for it — if he were prepared, by monotone, to expect variation. As it is, he is at fault in a first attempt at perusal, and it is only on a second or third trial, that he appreciates the effect. To be sure, he then wonders why he did not at first catch the intention: — but the mischief has been committed. The fact is that the line, which would have been singularly beautiful in the body of the poem, is in its present position, a blemish. Mr. Cranch has violated a vital law of rhythmical art, in not permitting his rhythm to determine itself, instantaneously, by his opening foot. A trochaic rhythm, for example, should invariably commence with a trochee. I speak thus at length on this apparently trivial point, because I have been much interested in the phenomenon of a marked common-placeness of defect, involving as marked an originality of merit.(d)


poetry) a. Poe’s attack on the Massachusetts “spirit” is rather loosely worded, since it is the British Bentham and the Mill family (father [page 291:] and son) who represent utilitarianism, with Emerson as the epitome of the third. Rarely does he specifically deprecate “Puritanism,” obviously considered here as the New England antagonist of the South. To exempt Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-92) — painter, critic, poet, and even minister-argues Poe’s real admiration for “the least intolerable . . . of Boston transcendentalists” (start of the “Literati” sketch). The “portrait” in the 7/46 Godey’s (H 15.69-72) quotes three other poems to prove his “unusual vivacity of fancy and dexterity of expression . . . and versification . . . remarkable for its accuracy, vigor, and . . . originality of effect.” In the 1848 SLM, “Rationale of Verse” (H 14.236, 239, 248-52), he extensively develops Cranch’s rhythmical “fault” (see below) using the first stanza of “My Thoughts” and the same Greek rhetorical “notion,” but he leaves this out of a combination of M 175 and the other two which became one of the three parts of “Literary America,” an unpublished manuscript (now in the Huntington Library) intended for the first issue of Poe’s magazine The Stylus in 1848. The other two sketches, of Richard A. Locke and Thomas Dunn English, were collected by Harrison. Poe’s linking Cranch with the editor Locke and the greatly scorned editor-poet English shows a basically tempered endorsement. Here too is the third misspelling of “Pearse.”

Elysian) b. In the “Literary America” reprinting, Poe underlines the last five lines of st. 2 and the first two of four for being of “the highest order of natural or obvious fancy.” He alludes to his quoting st. I in “The Rationale of Verse.”

Greek, αστρολογος) c. In Greek prosody the “pæon” is a metrical unit of one long and three short syllables, named according to the syllable which is long (hence, in the first — “primus”; in the second — “secundus” etc.). Strictly speaking, the “first” does consist of the “long-short” plus two shorts (“Pyrrhic foot”), but, as usual, Poe is confused about long syllables and accented syllables. Poe’s source for this sentence (repeated and expanded in “Rationale” — 14.239) innocently led Poe astray. There is no prosodic term “astrologos” — which simply means “astronomer” or “astrologer.” Poe is following Charles Anthon, A System of Greek Prosody and Metre (N. Y.: Harper, 1842), p. 49, who is explaining the foot thus:

Pæon primus — ˘ ˘ ˘ ’αστρóλογος (astrologos)

In short, he gives the name of the foot, the scanning symbol next, and finally a Greek word applying the scansion (i. e., “astrologos,” which is long short short short). Poe naively assumed the word “astrologos” to be the Greek name of the foot, as J. Arthur Greenwood, Edgar A. Poe (1968), p. 125, n 8, indicates.

merit) d. For Poe’s notions about basing metrics on music and the “principle of equality” see MM 133, 140,147 and the essay “Rationale of Verse.” A full study of Poe on prosody is very much needed, beyond Mr. Greenwood’s provocative partial treatment and Gay Wilson Allen’s History of American Prosody (1934), pp. 95-158.






[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 07)