Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 17,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 417-423 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 417:]

INSTALLMENT XVII

Southern Literary Messenger

September 1849 XV, 600-601

MARGINALIA.

By Edgar A. Poe.

[2 items, nos. 290-291]

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Marginalia 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.(a) 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Like stars into a cloud withdrawn —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. [page 418:]

———— 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 lone, 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 wraps 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.(b)

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(c).

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blazoned) a. William Rose Wallace (Lexington, Ky.,1819-1881), lawyer, magazine-contributor, friend of many New York literati, knew Poe well as Poe indicates in Doings of Gotham, Letter III of 5/29/44 (p. 42), calling him “the Kentucky Poet” by his preference. Poe’s exaggerated praise here invokes the NAR discrimination against Southerners that enters into M 206 for Tucker and M 211 for himself. In 1837 The Battle of Tippecanoe was issued and in 1851, Meditations in America; best known was his poem, “The hand that rocks the cradle.” But Poe praises him not for his strained, bombastic qualities but because he is “richly eloquent” and “noble” as a man (Letter III); he mentions a squabble with the great political figure Daniel O‘Connell in Dublin, about 1842, at a repeal meeting — an affair which has not reached either the contemporary papers or biographies of O‘Connell (TOM, p. 45). For all his praise, Poe mentions him only in the 1/28/43 Saturday Museum rev. of Griswold’s PPA (at least partly written by Poe) with ref. to his “Star Lyra, &c.” (H 11.241). In M 247 Poe treats of public distrust or misunderstanding of “men of genius.” It must be granted that W. C. Bryant liked Wallace’s “splendor of imagination” and George D. Prentice thought him the country’s “greatest lyrical poet” (DAB).

Perhaps Poe calls the NAR a “buzzard” not only because of its colloquial use for “contemptible fellow” but because of the prominence of “Buzzard’s Bay,” on the Massachusetts coast. Richard Henry Dana [page 419:] (1787-1879), poet, essayist, was also a former ed. of the NAR, hence here of “inferior merits,” although sometimes rated by Poe a little more highly, as in a “Literati” sketch ref. (H 15.49-50) and an “Autography” portrait (15.224; for other citations see PD 25). A cardinal source for “Metzengerstein” was Dana’s narrative poem “The Buccaneer” (1827; TOM 16).

As for Charles Sprague (Boston, 1791-1875), banker and occasional poet (collected poems, 1841) — Poe made several refs. to him, his 5141 Graham’s rev. (H 10.139-42) and 1/42 Graham’s “Autography” sketch (H 15.248-49) being fairly favorable (see also H 11.124, 11.280, 13.138, 143, 15.49-50, 239, 257, 261). For a prior use of Sprague see M 104 note j.

like God) b. “The Chaunt of a Soul” first appeared in Sartain’s Magazine, 1.214-15, and was republished in Wallace’s Meditations . . . (1851), p. 139. The line numbers for each of the excerpts are these: first — 70-73, second-92-94, third — 66-67, fourth — 12-25.

now) c. For Bayard Taylor and the objectionable rev. in the 1/13/49 Literary World, 4.31, see M 212 note a, and para. 2 of M 212 for the excerpt. Poe also condemned “a general interjectional rhetoricianism” in his rev. of Bulwer Lytton’s Poems in the BJ, 1.81. Although there is no rule or line for separation of articles in the SLM text, Harrison printed this last para. as a separate M article, following the four excerpts. At the same time Harrison noted (in a footnote) that “Griswold printed this as a separate paper.” The entire article as one integrated unit was included in the third (“Literati”) vol. of 1850, pp. 240-41, under the title of “WILLIAM WALLACE” — indication enough to Harrison that it was really all one article. Since it was not included in Griswold’s set of “Marginalia,” we may conclude that it was Poe who directed its being placed among the “Literati.”

Marginalia 291

“Frequently(a) 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.(b) 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 [page 420:] 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.(c)

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 precisely 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.(d) 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 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.(e)

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.(f)

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Frequently) a. This article is closely adapted from Poe’s rev. of Prose and Verse. By Thomas Hood. Part I (Wiley and Putnam’s Library of Choice Reading, 1845), the 8/9/45 BJ, 2.71-74 (H 12.213-22). Since this article speaks of some of Poe’s basic literary principles and shows his extreme care in revising material at the end of his career, collation of all substantive variants may be useful, the BJ text being placed before [page 421:] the slash: para. 1) editor l Editor of Hood; such despicable platitude I so . . . platitude; In especial whatever I Whatever; its element / the pun’s element; putting to paper / committing — ; has no claim to be believed upon his oath / should . . . oath; para. 2) The continuous and premeditated puns of Hood I The puns . . .Inez; they are the grinnings / the grinnings; pseudo wit / false wit; niaiseries / niai-series; I allude I we-; his most extensive / his widest; would follow as a corollary / is but -; we have I I have; he was obliged to write / he would write; true element / true province; class of humor / humor; altogether out / out; very remarkable / remarkable; brilliant / brilliant, or, rather, glowing which wonderfully aided its effect I vastly . . . effect; faintly entitles / entitles; has the capability I is capable; producing / inducing; minds of I minds or hearts of; para. 3) This is a pastiche of sentences as follows: When we speak of his province as a border ground between Fantasy and Fancy,. . . I sentence 1; He has made very successful and frequent incursions into the dominions of humor. . . and there have been one or two occasions . . . in which he has stepped boldly, yet vacillatingly, into the realm of imagination herself. We mean to say, however, that he is never truly imaginative for more than a paragraph at a time. / sentences 3, 4; In a word, the genius of Hood is the result of vivid Fancy impelled, or controlled,-certainly tinctured, at all points, by hypochondriasis plus . . . the result (we say) of warm Fancy impelled by Hypochondriasis / sentence 5.

called) b. Inquiry has not elicited the editor of this or the companion volume (No. XIX) of Hood’s works. The Preface of the volume yielding Poe’s quotation (p. vii) has nothing in common with that of earlier or later American editions, including the large 1865 edition prefaced by Epes Sargent. Papers of E. Duyckinck, so prominent in the Wiley and Putnam office, yield no information. It is astonishing that Poe’s enthusiasm for Hood as “singularly fanciful” in an honorific sense is here canceled entirely by his selection of a devastating portion of his 1845 rev., especially since he left a much more commendatory view in “The Poetic Principle” posthumously published (Home Journal and Sartain’s Union Magazine, both 1850; H 14.266-92, specifically, 283-87). The last para. attempts to temper his condemnation, through his inconsistent patchwork of excerpts, but the effect of this article is certainly more negative than would be expected from tracing the dozen reviews and passages or comments in Poe’s works (see PD 46 for loci). In his 8/ 30/45 BJ rev. of Part II of Hood’s book, he recants (H 12.235-37). Poe seems to have followed closely the career and popularity of Thomas Hood (1799-1845), British humorist, journalist, and poet-recently deceased when he wrote the first version of this article; he apparently read the “Literary Reminiscence” which ran in Hood’s Own Magazine (1839) and knew the poems well enough quickly to point out a borrowing (M 160). Early he became editor or contributor to various prominent London [page 422:] journals and a member of stimulating if not fashionable literary circles, but the public consistently preferred his humor to his seriousness in prose and poetry, enjoying also his own graphic sketches used as illustrative vignettes. Good naturedly he excelled in puns, which he vindicated thus: “A double meaning has double sense.” In his last years, terminally ill, he composed the more serious pieces, still popular, to which Poe gave high praise: “Song of the Shirt,” “Bridge of Sighs,” et al.

oath) c. Poe is generally more lenient toward puns, as in M Intro. and indulges in them himself in MM 87, 257, 259. His word “punnage” appears only in this instance in the OED.

emergency) d. Although Poe here misspells “Fair Ines,” it was a poem that he cherished and quoted twice in its entirety: later in the 8/ 9/45 BJ rev. of Hood’s book (H 220-21) and in “The Poetic Principle” (H 14.283-84). It is amusing that the Cosmopolitan Art Journal of 12/1857, 2.7, took Poe to task for not noticing that Hood’s poem, first published in the 1/1823 London Magazine, merely “amplified” Burns’ “Bonnie Lesley,” the second stanza of which began “To see her is to love her.” But while the first stanza (a quatrain) certainly bears traces of Burns’ poem, the rest is quite independent of it.

great) e. This para. too shows Poe as choosing carefully some highly idiosyncratic words. The word “niaiserie” entered frequently into his criticism; derived from the French “niais” (simpleton, fool), then “niaiser” (to trifle), it means “nonsense,” “foolishness” or “trifle.” As often, Poe wished to distinguish separate vocalic syllables but placed his dieresis irregularly. Here the text had two errors: niai-series whereas a ligature or joining for the “al” is demanded; otherwise he requires all three vowels to be sounded. French dictionaries use no dieresis for the word (see my Intro. for Poe’s use of the dieresis). Poe gave a new designation to “grotesquerie,” an old word meaning only “grotesque objects considered collectively.” The OED gives five later instances with Poe’s meaning. For other instances in Poe, see “Mystification,” “Pit,” “Rue Morgue,” and two passages of criticism (all in PCW 27). The word “abandon” either in its English or French form is a favorite of Poe’s in this series and in other criticism: see H 13.175, M Intro. and MM 192 (para. 1), 202 (para. 3 and note c), and 213 (para. 2). The Latin phrase comes from Horace, Ars Poetica, 1. 385 (Minerva being unwilling; hence, without inspiration). For “ideal” see M 42 b.

Hypochondriasis) f. Sometimes Poe uses “fancy” as synonymous with “fantasy,” from which it directly comes, as in “The Spectacles”: “a fancy or fantasy of the moment” (TOM 902/8); sometimes, as here, he seeks to differentiate, separating both from “true Imagination.” Perhaps he is implying that “Hypochondriasis” lends a distorted or grotesque quality to the shapings of the “released” mind (cf. “abandon”), since “in [page 423:] its pathological aspect” it was held “a disorder of the nervous system, generally accompanied by indigestion, but chiefly characterized by the patient’s unfounded belief that he is suffering from some serious bodily disease” (OED). Roderick Usher is described as “hypochondriac” thrice (TOM 405/24,409/14,413/14) and so is Julius Rodman (C 522/01), being based on Merriwether Lewis. The humorous ref. to the author’s being deemed “hipped” (a colloquialism for “afflicted by hypochondriasis” just then coming into use — cf. OED) in “Never Bet the Devil” (TOM 626/ 31) underscores Poe’s attitude. Hood could have developed the “true Imagination,” as in “The Haunted House,” Poe writes in the 8/30 BJ rev. of Part II of Hood’s works (H 12.236), but Hood could not then have yielded to the neurosis which darkened the last years of his life. Suffering, then, does not motivate or impel the artist.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 17)