Text: Burton R. Pollin, “April 1836 (Texts),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 154-176 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 154, continued:]

Texts of April [[1836]]

1. [Edgar A. Poe]. “The Loyalty of Virginia” and “Chief Justice Marshall.”

2. [Edgar A. Poe]. “Maelzel’s Chess-Player.”

3. Joseph Rodman Drake. The Culprit Fay. Fitz-Greene Halleck. Alnwick Castle.

4. [Sir Francis Bond Head]. Bubbles from the Brunnen of Nassau.

1

THE LOYALTY OF VIRGINIA.

In our last number, while reviewing the Ecclesiastical History of Dr. Hawks, we had occasion to speak of those portions of Mr. George Bancroft’s United States, which have reference to the loyalty of Virginia immediately before and during the Protectorate of Cromwell. Since the publication of our remarks, a personal interview with Mr. Bancroft, and an examination, especially, of one or two passages in his History, have been sufficient to convince us that injustice (of course unintentional) has been done that gentleman, not only by ourselves, but by Dr. Hawks and others.

In our own review alluded to above, we concluded, in the following words, a list of arguments adduced, or supposed to be adduced, in proof of Virginia’s disloyalty.

“6. Virginia was infected with republicanism. She wished to set up for herself. Thus intent, she demands of Berkeley a distinct acknowledgment of her Assembly’s supremacy. His reply was ‘I am but the servant of the Assembly.’ Berkeley, therefore, was republican, and his tumultuous election proves nothing but the republicanism of Virginia.” To which our reply was thus. “6. The reasoning here is reasoning in a circle. Virginia is first declared republican. From this assumed fact, deductions are made which prove Berkeley so — and Berkeley’s republicanism, thus proved, is made to establish that of Virginia. But Berkeley’s answer (from which Mr. Bancroft has extracted the words, ‘I am but the servant of the Assembly,’) runs thus. ‘You desire me to do that concerning your titles and claims to land in this northern part of America, which I am in no capacity to do: for I am but the servant of the Assembly: neither do they arrogate to themselves any power farther than the miserable distractions in England force them to. For when God shall be pleased to take away and dissipate the unnatural divisions of their native country, they will immediately return to their professed obedience.’ — Smith’s New York. It will be seen that Mr. Bancroft has been disingenuous in quoting only a portion of this sentence. The whole proves incontestibly that neither Berkeley nor the Assembly arrogated to themselves any power beyond what they were forced to assume by circumstances — in a word it proves their loyalty.”

We are now, however, fully persuaded that Mr. Bancroft had not only no intention of representing Virginia as disloyal-but that his work, closely examined, will not admit of such interpretation. As an offset to our argument just quoted, we copy the following (the passage to which our remarks had reference) from page 245 of Mr. B.’s only published volume.

“On the death of Matthews, the Virginians were without a chief magistrate, just at the time when the resignation of Richard had left England without a government. The burgesses, who were immediately convened, resolving to become the arbiters of the fate of the colony, enacted ‘that the supreme power of the government of this country shall be resident in the assembly, and all writs shall issue in its name, until there shall arrive from England a commission which the assembly itself shall adjudge to be lawful.’ This being done, Sir William Berkeley was elected governor, and acknowledging the validity of the acts of the burgesses, whom it was expressly agreed he could in no event dissolve, he accepted the office to which he had been chosen, and recognized, without a scruple, the authority to which he owed his elevation.’ I am,’ said he, ‘but a servant of the assembly.’ Virginia did not lay claim to absolute independence; but anxiously awaited the settlement of affairs in England.”

It will here be seen, that the words italicized beginning “Virginia did not lay claim,” &c. are very nearly, if not altogether equivalent to what we assume as proved by the whole of Berkeley’s reply, viz. that neither Berkeley nor the assembly arrogated to themselves any power beyond what they were forced to assume by circumstances. Our charge, therefore, of disingenuousness on the part of Mr. Bancroft in quoting only a portion of the answer, is evidently unsustained, and we can have no hesitation in recalling it.

At page 226 of the History of the United States, we note the following passage.

“At Christmas, 1648, there were trading in Virginia, ten ships from London, two from Bristol, twelve Hollanders, and seven from New England. The number of the colonists was already twenty thousand; and they, who had sustained no griefs, were not tempted to engage in the feuds by which the mother country was divided. They were attached to the cause of Charles, not because they loved monarchy, but because they cherished the liberties of which he had left them in undisturbed possession; and after his execution, though there were not wanting some who favored republicanism, the government recognized his son without dispute. The loyalty of the Virginians did not escape the attention of the royal exile. From his retreat in Breda he transmitted to Berkeley a new commission, and Charles the Second, a fugitive from England, was still the sovereign of Virginia.”

This passage alone will render it evident that Mr. Bancroft’s readers have been wrong in supposing him to maintain the disloyalty of the State. It cannot be denied, however, (and if we understand Mr. B. he does not himself deny it,) that there is, about some portions of his volume, an ambiguity, ‘or perhaps a laxity of expression, which it would be as well to avoid hereafter. The note of Dr. Hawks we consider exceptionable, inasmuch as it is not sufficiently explanatory. The passages in Mr. B.’s History which we have noted above, and other passages equally decisive, were pointed out to Dr. Hawks. He should have therefore not only stated that Mr. B. disclaimed the intention of representing Virginia as republican, but also that his work, if accurately examined, would not admit of such interpretation. The question of Virginia’s loyalty may now be considered as fully determined.

 

CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL.

It is with great pleasure, at the opportunity thus afforded us of correcting an error, that we give place to the following letter.

Philadelphia, March 25, 1836.

SIR, — A mistake, evidently unintentional, having appeared in the February number of your journal for this year, we feel convinced you will, upon proper representation, take pleasure in correcting it, as an impression so erroneous might have a prejudicial tendency. Under the notice of the Eulogies on the Life and Character of the late Chief Justice Marshall, it is there stated that “for several years past Judge Marshall had suffered under a most excruciating malady. A surgical operation by Dr. Physick of Philadelphia at length procured him relief; but a hurt received in travelling last Spring seems to have caused a return of the former complaint with circumstances of aggravated pain and danger. Having revisited Philadelphia in the hope of again finding a cure, his disease there overpowered him, and he died on the 6th of July, 1835, in the 80th year of his age.”

Now, sir, the above quotation is incorrect in the following respect: Judge Marshall never had a return of the complaint for which he was operated upon by Dr. Physick. After the demise of Chief Justice Marshall, it became our melancholy duty to make a post mortem examination, which we did in the most careful manner, and ascertained that his bladder did not contain one particle of calculous matter; its mucous coat was in a perfectly natural state, and exhibited not the slightest traces of irritation.

The cause of his death was a very diseased condition of the liver, which was enormously enlarged, and contained several tuberculous abscesses of great size; its pressure upon the stomach had the effect of dislodging this organ from its natural situation, and compressing it in such a manner, that for some time previous to his death it would not retain the smallest quantity of nutriment. By publishing this statement, you will oblige

Yours, very respectfully,

N. CHAPMAN, M. D.
J. RANDOLPH, M.D.

To T. W. White, Esq.

2

MAELZEL’S CHESS-PLAYER.

Perhaps no exhibition of the kind has ever elicited so general attention as the Chess-Player of Maelzel. Wherever seen it has been an object of intense curiosity, to all persons who think. Yet the question of its modus operandi is still undetermined. Nothing has been written on this topic which can be considered as decisive — and accordingly we find every where men of mechanical genius, of great general acuteness, and discriminative understanding, who make no scruple in pronouncing the Automaton a pure machine, unconnected with human agency in its movements, and consequently, beyond all comparison, the most astonishing of the inventions of mankind. And such it would undoubtedly be, were they right in their supposition. Assuming this hypothesis, it would be grossly absurd to compare with the Chess-Player, any similar thing of either modern or ancient days. Yet there have been many and wonderful automata. In Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic, we have an account of the most remarkable. Among these may be mentioned, as having beyond doubt existed, firstly, the coach invented by M. Camus for the amusement of Louis XIV when a child. A table, about four feet square, was introduced, into the room appropriated for the exhibition. Upon this table was placed a carriage, six inches in length, made of wood, and drawn by two horses of the same material. One window being down, a lady was seen on the back seat. A coachman held the reins on the box, and a footman and page were in their places behind. M. Camus now touched a spring; whereupon the coachman smacked his whip, and the horses proceeded in a natural manner, along the edge of the table, drawing after them the carriage. Having gone as far as possible in this direction, a sudden turn was made to the left, and the vehicle was driven at right angles to its former course, and still closely along the edge of the table. In this way the coach proceeded until it arrived opposite the chair of the young prince. It then stopped, the page descended and opened the door, the lady alighted, and presented a petition to her sovereign. She then re-entered. The page put up the steps, closed the door, and resumed his station. The coachman whipped his horses, and the carriage was driven back to its original position.

The magician of M. Maillardet is also worthy of notice. We copy the following account of it from the Letters before mentioned of Dr. B., who derived his information principally from the Edinburgh Encyclopædia.

“One of the most popular pieces of mechanism which we have seen, is the Magician constructed by M. Maillardet, for the purpose of answering certain given questions. A figure, dressed like a magician, appears seated at the bottom of a wall, holding a wand in one hand, and a book in the other. A number of questions, ready prepared, are inscribed on oval medallions, and the spectator takes any of these he chooses, and to which he wishes an answer, and having placed it in a drawer ready to receive it, the drawer shuts with a spring till the answer is returned. The magician then arises from his seat, bows his head, describes circles with his wand, and consulting the book as if in deep thought, he lifts it towards his face. Having thus appeared to ponder over the proposed question, he raises his wand, and striking with it the wall above his head, two folding doors fly open, and display an appropriate answer to the question. The doors again close, the magician resumes his original position, and the drawer opens to return the medallion. There are twenty of these medallions, all containing different questions, to which the magician returns the most suitable and striking answers. The medallions are thin plates of brass, of an elliptical form, exactly resembling each other. Some of the medallions have a question inscribed on each side, both of which the magician answered in succession. If the drawer is shut without a medallion being put into it, the magician rises, consults his book, shakes his head, and resumes his seat. The folding doors remain shut, and the drawer is returned empty. If two medallions are put into the drawer together, an answer is returned only to the lower one. When the machinery is wound up, the movements continue about an hour, during which time about fifty questions may be answered. The inventor stated that the means by which the different medallions acted upon the machinery, so as to produce the proper answers to the questions which they contained, were extremely simple.”

The duck of Vaucanson was still more remarkable. It was of the size of life, and so perfect an imitation of the living animal that all the spectators were deceived. It executed, says Brewster, all the natural movements and gestures, it eat [[ate]] and drank with avidity, performed all the quick motions of the head and throat which are peculiar to the duck, and like it muddled the water which it drank with its bill. It produced also the sound of quacking in the most natural manner. In the anatomical structure the artist exhibited the highest skill. Every bone in the real duck had its representative in the automaton, and its wings were anatomically exact. Every cavity, apophysis, and curvature was imitated, and each bone executed its proper movements. When corn was thrown down before it, the duck stretched out its neck to pick it up, swallowed, and digested it.*

But if these machines were ingenious, what shall we think of the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage? What shall we think of an engine of wood and metal which can not only compute astronomical and navigation tables to any given extent, but render the exactitude of its operations mathematically certain through its power of correcting its possible errors? What shall we think of a machine which can not only accomplish all this, but actually print off its elaborate results, when obtained, without the slightest intervention of the intellect of man? It will, perhaps, be said, in reply, that a machine such as we have described is altogether above comparison with the Chess-Player of Maelzel. By no means — it is altogether beneath it — that is to say provided we assume (what should never for a moment be assumed) that the Chess-Player is a pure machine, and performs its operations without any immediate human agency. Arithmetical or algebraical calculations are, from their very nature, fixed and determinate. Certain data being given, certain results necessarily and inevitably follow. These results have dependence upon nothing, and are influenced by nothing but the data originally given. And the question to be solved proceeds, or should proceed, to its final determination, by a succession of unerring steps liable to no change, and subject to no modification. This being the case, we can without difficulty conceive the possibility of so arranging a piece of mechanism, that upon starting it in accordance with the data of the question to be solved, it should continue its movements regularly, progressively, and undeviatingly towards the required solution, since these movements, however complex, are never imagined to be otherwise than finite and determinate. But the case is widely different with the Chess-Player. With him there is no determinate progression. No one move in chess necessarily follows upon any one other. From no particular disposition of the men at one period of a game can we predicate their disposition at a different period. Let us place the first move in a game of chess, in juxta-position with the data of an algebraical question, and their great difference will be immediately perceived. From the latter — from the data — the second step of the question, dependent thereupon, inevitably follows. It is modelled by the data. It must be thus and not otherwise. But from the first move in the game of chess no especial second move follows of necessity. In the algebraical question, as it proceeds towards solution, the certainty of its operations remains altogether unimpaired. The second step having been a consequence of the data, the third step is equally a consequence of the second, the fourth of the third, the fifth of the fourth, and so on, and not possibly otherwise, to the end. But in proportion to the progress made in a game of chess, is the uncertainty of each ensuing move. A few moves having been made, no step is certain. Different spectators of the game would advise different moves. All is then dependent upon the variable judgment of the players. Now even granting (what should not be granted) that the movements of the Automaton Chess-Player were in themselves determinate, they would be necessarily interrupted and disarranged by the indeterminate will of his antagonist. There is then no analogy whatever between the operations of the Chess-Player, and those of the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage, and if we choose to call the former a pure machine we must be prepared to admit that it is, beyond all comparison, the most wonderful of the inventions of mankind. Its original projector, however, Baron Kempelen, had no scruple in declaring it to be a “very ordinary piece of mechanism — a bagatelle whose effects appeared so marvellous only from the boldness of the conception, and the fortunate choice of the methods adopted for promoting the illusion.” But it is needless to dwell upon this point. It is quite certain that the operations of the Automaton are regulated by mind, and by nothing else. Indeed this matter is susceptible of a mathematical demonstration, a priori. The only question then is of the manner in which human agency is brought to bear. Before entering upon this subject it would be as well to give a brief history and description of the Chess-Player for the benefit of such of our readers as may never have had an opportunity of witnessing Mr. Maelzel’s exhibition.

Maelzel's Chess-Player

The Automaton Chess-Player was invented in 1769, by Baron Kempelen, a nobleman of Presburg in Hungary, who afterwards disposed of it, together with the secret of its operations, to its present possessor. Soon after its completion it was exhibited in Presburg, Paris, Vienna, and other continental cities. In 1783 and 1784, it was taken to London by Mr. Maelzel. Of late years it has visited the principal towns in the United States. Wherever seen, the most intense curiosity was excited by its appearance, and numerous have been the attempts, by men of all classes, to fathom the mystery of its evolutions. The cut above gives a tolerable representation of the figure as seen by the citizens of Richmond a few weeks ago. The right arm, however, should lie more at length upon the box, a chess-board should appear upon it, and the cushion should not be seen while the pipe is held. Some immaterial alterations have been made in the costume of the player since it came into the possession of Maelzel — the plume, for example, was not originally worn.

At the hour appointed for exhibition, a curtain is withdrawn, or folding doors are thrown open, and the machine rolled to within about twelve feet of the nearest of the spectators, between whom and it (the machine) a rope is stretched. A figure is seen habited as a Turk, and seated, with its legs crossed, at a large box apparently of maple wood, which serves it as a table. The exhibiter will, if requested, roll the machine to any portion of the room, suffer it to remain altogether on any designated spot, or even shift its location repeatedly during the progress of a game. The bottom of the box is elevated considerably above the floor by means of the castors or brazen rollers on which it moves, a clear view of the surface immediately beneath the Automaton being thus afforded to the spectators. The chair on which the figure sits is affixed permanently to the box. On the top of this latter is a chess-board, also permanently affixed. The right arm of the Chess-Player is extended at full length before him, at right angles with his body, and lying, in an apparently careless position, by the side of the board. The back of the hand is upwards. The board itself is eighteen inches square. The left arm of the figure is bent at the elbow, and in the left hand is a pipe. A green drapery conceals the back of the Turk, and falls partially over the front of both shoulders. To judge from the external appearance of the box, it is divided into five compartments — three cupboards of equal dimensions, and two drawers occupying that portion of the chest lying beneath the cupboards. The foregoing observations apply to the appearance of the Automaton upon its first introduction into the presence of the spectators.

Maelzel now informs the company that he will disclose to their view the mechanism of the machine. Taking from his pocket a bunch of keys he unlocks with one of them, door marked 1 in the cut above, and throws the cupboard fully open to the inspection of all present. Its whole interior is apparently filled with wheels, pinions, levers, and other machinery, crowded very closely together, so that the eye can penetrate but a little distance into the mass. Leaving this door open to its full extent, he goes now round to the back of the box, and raising the drapery of the figure, opens another door situated precisely in the rear of the one first opened. Holding a lighted candle at this door, and shifting the position of the whole machine repeatedly at the same time, a bright light is thrown entirely through the cupboard, which is now clearly seen to be full, completely full, of machinery. The spectators being satisfied of this fact, Maelzel closes the back door, locks it, takes the key from the lock, lets fall the drapery of the figure, and comes round to the front. The door marked 1, it will be remembered, is still open. The exhibiter now proceeds to open the drawer which lies beneath the cupboards at the bottom of the box — for although there are apparently two drawers, there is really only one — the two handles and two key holes being intended merely for ornament. Having opened this drawer to its full extent, a small cushion, and a set of chessmen, fixed in a frame work made to support them perpendicularly, are discovered. Leaving this drawer, as well as cupboard No. 1 open, Maelzel now unlocks door No. 2, and door No. 3, which are discovered to be folding doors, opening into one and the same compartment. To the right of this compartment, however, (that is to say the spectators’ right) a small division, six inches wide, and filled with machinery, is partitioned off. The main compartment itself (in speaking of that portion of the box visible upon opening doors 2 and 3, we shall always call it the main compartment) is lined with dark cloth and contains no machinery whatever beyond two pieces of steel, quadrant-shaped, and situated one in each of the rear top corners of the compartment. A small protuberance about eight inches square, and also covered with dark cloth, lies on the floor of the compartment near the rear corner on the spectators’ left hand. Leaving doors No. 2 and No. 3 open as well as the drawer, and door No. 1, the exhibiter now goes round to the back of the main compartment, and, unlocking another door there, displays clearly all the interior of the main compartment, by introducing a candle behind it and within it. The whole box being thus apparently disclosed to the scrutiny of the company, Maelzel, still leaving the doors and drawer open, rolls the Automaton entirely round, and exposes the back of the Turk by lifting up the drapery. A door about ten inches square is thrown open in the loins of the figure, and a smaller one also in the left thigh. The interior of the figure, as seen through these apertures, appears to be crowded with machinery. In general, every spectator is now thoroughly satisfied of having beheld and completely scrutinized, at one and the same time, every individual portion of the Automaton, and the idea of any person being concealed in the interior, during so complete an exhibition of that interior, if ever entertained, is immediately dismissed as preposterous in the extreme.

M. Maelzel, having rolled the machine back into its original position, now informs the company that the Automaton will play a game of chess with any one disposed to encounter him. This challenge being accepted, a small table is prepared for the antagonist, and placed close by the rope, but on the spectators’ side of it, and so situated as not to prevent the company from obtaining a full view of the Automaton. From a drawer in this table is taken a set of chess-men, and Maelzel arranges them generally, but not always, with his own hands, on the chess[[-]]board, which consists merely of the usual number of squares painted upon the table. The antagonist having taken his seat, the exhibiter approaches the drawer of the box, and takes therefrom the cushion, which, after removing the pipe from the hand of the Automaton, he places under its left arm as a support. Then taking also from the drawer the Automaton’s set of chess-men, he arranges them upon the chess-board before the figure. He now proceeds to close the doors and to lock them — leaving the bunch of keys in door No. 1. He also closes the drawer, and, finally, winds up the machine, by applying a key to an aperture in the left end (the spectators’ left) of the box. The game now commences — the Automaton taking the first move. The duration of the contest is usually limited to half an hour, but if it be not finished at the expiration of this period, and the antagonist still contend that he can beat the Automaton, M. Maelzel has seldom any objection to continue it. Not to weary the company, is the ostensible, and no doubt the real object of the limitation. It will of course be understood that when a move is made at his own table, by the antagonist, the corresponding move is made at the box of the Automaton, by Maelzel himself, who then acts as the representative of the antagonist. On the other hand, when the Turk moves, the corresponding move is made at the table of the antagonist, also by M. Maelzel, who then acts as the representative of the Automaton. In this manner it is necessary that the exhibiter should often pass from one table to the other. He also frequently goes in rear of the figure to remove the chess-men which it has taken, and which it deposits, when taken, on the box to the left (to its own left) of the board. When the Automaton hesitates in relation to its move, the exhibiter is occasionally seen to place himself very near its right side, and to lay his hand, now and then, in a careless manner upon the box. He has also a peculiar shuffle with his feet, calculated to induce suspicion of collusion with the machine in minds which are more cunning than sagacious. These peculiarities are, no doubt, mere mannerisms of M. Maelzel, or, if he is aware of them at all, he puts them in practice with a view of exciting in the spectators a false idea of pure mechanism in the Automaton.

The Turk plays with his left hand. All the movements of the arm are at right angles. In this manner, the hand (which is gloved and bent in a natural way,) being brought directly above the piece to be moved, descends finally upon it, the fingers receiving it, in most cases, without difficulty. Occasionally, however, when the piece is not precisely in its proper situation, the Automaton fails in his attempt at seizing it. When this occurs, no second effort is made, but the arm continues its movement in the direction originally intended, precisely as if the piece were in the fingers. Having thus designated the spot whither the move should have been made, the arm returns to its cushion, and Maelzel performs the evolution which the Automaton pointed out. At every movement of the figure machinery is heard in motion. During the progress of the game, the figure now and then rolls its eyes, as if surveying the board, moves its head, and pronounces the word echec (check) when necessary.* If a false move be made by his antagonist, he raps briskly on the box with the fingers of his right hand, shakes his head roughly, and replacing the piece falsely moved, in its former situation, assumes the next move himself. Upon beating the game, he waves his head with an air of triumph, looks round complacently upon the spectators, and drawing his left arm farther back than usual, suffers his fingers alone to rest upon the cushion. In general, the Turk is victorious — once or twice he has been beaten. The game being ended, Maelzel will again, if desired, exhibit the mechanism of the box, in the same manner as before. The machine is then rolled back, and a curtain hides it from the view of the company.

There have been many attempts at solving the mystery of the Automaton. The most general opinion in relation to it, an opinion too not unfrequently adopted by men who should have known better, was, as we have before said, that no immediate human agency was employed — in other words, that the machine was purely a machine and nothing else. Many, however maintained that the exhibiter himself regulated the movements of the figure by mechanical means operating through the feet of the box. Others again, spoke confidently of a magnet. Of the first of these opinions we shall say nothing at present more than we have already said. In relation to the second it is only necessary to repeat what we have before stated, that the machine is rolled about on castors, and will, at the request of a spectator, be moved to and fro to any portion of the room, even during the progress of a game. The supposition of the magnet is also untenable — for if a magnet were the agent, any other magnet in the pocket of a spectator would disarrange the entire mechanism. The exhibiter, however, will suffer the most powerful loadstone to remain even upon the box during the whole of the exhibition.

The first attempt at a written explanation of the secret, at least the first attempt of which we ourselves have any knowledge, was made in a large pamphlet printed at Paris in 1785. The author’s hypothesis amounted to this — that a dwarf actuated the machine. This dwarf he supposed to conceal himself during the opening of the box by thrusting his legs into two hollow cylinders, which were represented to be (but which are not) among the machinery in the cupboard No. 1, while his body was out of the box entirely, and covered by the drapery of the Turk. When the doors were shut, the dwarf was enabled to bring his body within the box — the noise produced by some portion of the machinery allowing him to do so unheard, and also to close the door by which he entered. The interior of the Automaton being then exhibited, and no person discovered, the spectators, says the author of this pamphlet, are satisfied that no one is within any portion of the machine. This whole hypothesis was too obviously absurd to require comment, or refutation, and accordingly we find that it attracted very little attention.

In 1789 a book was published at Dresden by M. I. F. Freyhere in which another endeavor was made to unravel the mystery. Mr. Freyhere’s book was a pretty large one, and copiously illustrated by colored engravings. His supposition was that “a well-taught boy very thin and tall of his age (sufficiently so that he could be concealed in a drawer almost immediately under the chess-board”) played the game of chess and effected all the evolutions of the Automaton. This idea, although even more silly than that of the Parisian author, met with a better reception, and was in some measure believed to be the true solution of the wonder, until the inventor put an end to the discussion by suffering a close examination of the top of the box.

These bizarre attempts at explanation were followed by others equally bizarre. Of late years however, an anonymous writer, by a course of reasoning exceedingly unphilosophical, has contrived to blunder upon a plausible solution — although we cannot consider it altogether the true one. His Essay was first published in a Baltimore weekly paper, was illustrated by cuts, and was entitled “An attempt to analyze the Automaton Chess-Player of M. Maelzel.” This Essay we suppose to have been the original of the pamphlet to which Sir David Brewster alludes in his letters on Natural Magic, and which he has no hesitation in declaring a thorough and satisfactory explanation. The results of the analysis are undoubtedly, in the main, just; but we can only account for Brewster’s pronouncing the Essay a thorough and satisfactory explanation, by supposing him to have bestowed upon it a very cursory and inattentive perusal. In the compendium of the Essay, made use of in the Letters on Natural Magic, it is quite impossible to arrive at any distinct conclusion in regard to the adequacy or inadequacy of the analysis, on account of the gross misarrangement and deficiency of the letters of reference employed. The same fault is to be found in the “Attempt &c,” as we originally saw it. The solution consists in a series of minute explanations, (accompanied by wood-cuts, the whole occupying many pages) in which the object is to show the possibility of so shifting the partitions of the box, as to allow a human being, concealed in the interior, to move portions of his body from one part of the box to another, during the exhibition of the mechanism — thus eluding the scrutiny of the spectators. There can be no doubt, as we have before observed, and as we will presently endeavor to show, that the principle, or rather the result, of this solution is the true one. Some person is concealed in the box during the whole time of exhibiting the interior. We object, however, to the whole verbose description of the manner in which the partitions are shifted, to accommodate the movements of the person concealed. We object to it as a mere theory assumed in the first place, and to which circumstances are afterwards made to adapt themselves. It was not, and could not have been, arrived at by any inductive reasoning. In whatever way the shifting is managed, it is of course concealed at every step from observation. To show that certain movements might possibly be effected in a certain way, is very far from showing that they are actually so effected. There may be an infinity of other methods by which the same results may be obtained. The probability of the one assumed proving the correct one is then as unity to infinity. But, in reality, this particular point, the shifting of the partitions, is of no consequence whatever. It was altogether unnecessary to devote seven or eight pages for the purpose of proving what no one in his senses would deny — viz: that the wonderful mechanical genius of Baron Kempelen could invent the necessary means for shutting a door or slipping aside a pannel, with a human agent too at his service in actual contact with the pannel or the door, and the whole operations carried on, as the author of the Essay himself shows, and as we shall attempt to show more fully hereafter, entirely out of reach of the observation of the spectators.

In attempting ourselves an explanation of the Automaton, we will, in the first place, endeavor to show how its operations are effected, and afterwards describe, as briefly as possible, the nature of the observations from which we have deduced our result.

It will be necessary for a proper understanding of the subject, that we repeat here in a few words, the routine adopted by the exhibiter in disclosing the interior of the box — a routine from which he never deviates in any material particular. In the first place he opens the door No. 1. Leaving this open, he goes round to the rear of the box, and opens a door precisely at the back of door No. 1. To this back door he holds a lighted candle. He then closes the back door, locks it, and, coming round to the front, opens the drawer to its full extent. This done, he opens the doors No. 2 and No. 3, (the folding doors) and displays the interior of the main compartment. Leaving open the main compartment, the drawer, and the front door of cupboard No. 1, he now goes to the rear again, and throws open the back door of the main compartment. In shutting up the box no particular order is observed, except that the folding doors are always closed before the drawer.

Now, let us suppose that when the machine is first rolled into the presence of the spectators, a man is already within it. His body is situated behind the dense machinery in cupboard No. 1, (the rear portion of which machinery is so contrived as to slip en masse, from the main compartment to the cupboard No. 1, as occasion may require,) and his legs lie at full length in the main compartment. When Maelzel opens the door No. 1, the man within is not in any danger of discovery, for the keenest eye cannot penetrate more than about two inches into the darkness within. But the case is otherwise when the back door of the cupboard No. 1, is opened. A bright light then pervades the cupboard, and the body of the man would be discovered if it were there. But it is not. The putting the key in the lock of the back door was a signal on hearing which the person concealed brought his body forward to an angle as acute as possible — throwing it altogether, or nearly so, into the main compartment. This, however, is a painful position, and cannot be long maintained. Accordingly we find that Maelzel closes the back door. This being done, there is no reason why the body of the man may not resume its former situation — for the cupboard is again so dark as to defy scrutiny. The drawer is now opened, and the legs of the person within drop down behind it in the space it formerly occupied.* There is, consequently, now no longer any part of the man in the main compartment — his body being behind the machinery in cupboard No. 1, and his legs in the space occupied by the drawer. The exhibiter, therefore, finds himself at liberty to display the main compartment. This he does — opening both its back and front doors — and no person is discovered. The spectators are now satisfied that the whole of the box is exposed to view — and exposed too, all portions of it at one and the same time. But of course this is not the case. They neither see the space behind the drawer, nor the interior of cupboard No. 1 — the front door of which latter the exhibiter virtually shuts in shutting its back door. Maelzel, having now rolled the machine around, lifted up the drapery of the Turk, opened the doors in his back and thigh, and shown his trunk to be full of machinery, brings the whole back into its original position, and closes the doors. The man within is now at liberty to move about. He gets up into the body of the Turk just so high as to bring his eyes above the level of the chess-board. It is very probable that he seats himself upon the little square block or protuberance which is seen in a corner of the main compartment when the doors are open. In this position he sees the chess-board through the bosom of the Turk which is of gauze. Bringing his right arm across his breast he actuates the little machinery necessary to guide the left arm and the fingers of the figure. This machinery is situated just beneath the left shoulder of the Turk, and is consequently easily reached by the right hand of the man concealed, if we suppose his right arm brought across the breast. The motions of the head and eyes, and of the right arm of the figure, as well as the sound echec are produced by other mechanism in the interior, and actuated at will by the man within. The whole of this mechanism — that is to say all the mechanism essential to the machine — is most probably contained within the little cupboard (of about six inches in breadth) partitioned off at the right (the spectators’ right) of the main compartment. 

In this analysis of the operations of the Automaton, we have purposely avoided any allusion to the manner in which the partitions are shifted, and it will now be readily comprehended that this point is a matter of no importance, since, by mechanism within the ability of any common carpenter, it might be effected in an infinity of different ways, and since we have shown that, however performed, it is performed out of the view of the spectators. Our result is founded upon the following observations taken during frequent visits to the exhibition of Maelzel.*

1. The moves of the Turk are not made at regular intervals of time, but accommodate themselves to the moves of the antagonist — although this point (of regularity) so important in all kinds of mechanical contrivance, might have been readily brought about by limiting the time allowed for the moves of the antagonist. For example, if this limit were three minutes, the moves of the Automaton might be made at any given intervals longer than three minutes. The fact then of irregularity, when regularity might have been so easily attained, goes to prove that regularity is unimportant to the action of the Automaton — in other words, that the Automaton is not a pure machine.

2. When the Automaton is about to move a piece, a distinct motion is observable just beneath the left shoulder, and which motion agitates in a slight degree, the drapery covering the front of the left shoulder. This motion invariably precedes, by about two seconds, the movement of the arm itself — and the arm never, in any instance, moves without this preparatory motion in the shoulder. Now let the antagonist move a piece, and let the corresponding move be made by Maelzel, as usual, upon the board of the Automaton. Then let the antagonist narrowly watch the Automaton, until he detect the preparatory motion in the shoulder. Immediately upon detecting this motion, and before the arm itself begins to move, let him withdraw his piece, as if perceiving an error in his manœuvre. It will then be seen that the movement of the arm, which, in all other cases, immediately succeeds the motion in the shoulder, is withheld — is not made — although Maelzel has not yet performed, on the board of the Automaton, any move corresponding to the withdrawal of the antagonist. In this case, that the Automaton was about to move is evident — and that he did not move, was an effect plainly produced by the withdrawal of the antagonist, and without any intervention of Maelzel.

This fact fully proves, 1 — that the intervention of Maelzel, in performing the moves of the antagonist on the board of the Automaton, is not essential to the movements of the Automaton, 2 — that its movements are regulated by mind — by some person who sees the board of the antagonist, 3 — that its movements are not regulated by the mind of Maelzel, whose back was turned towards the antagonist at the withdrawal of his move.

3. The Automaton does not invariably win the game. Were the machine a pure machine this would not be the case — it would always win. The principle being discovered by which a machine can be made to play a game of chess, an extension of the same principle would enable it to win a game — a farther extension would enable it to win all games — that is, to beat any possible game of an antagonist. A little consideration will convince any one that the difficulty of making a machine beat all games, is not in the least degree greater, as regards the principle of the operations necessary, than that of making it beat a single game. If then we regard the Chess-Player as a machine, we must suppose, (what is highly improbable,) that its inventor preferred leaving it incomplete to perfecting it — a supposition rendered still more absurd, when we reflect that the leaving it incomplete would afford an argument against the possibility of its being a pure machine — the very argument we now adduce.

4. When the situation of the game is difficult or complex, we never perceive the Turk either shake his head or roll his eyes. It is only when his next move is obvious, or when the game is so circumstanced that to a man in the Automaton’s place there would be no necessity for reflection. Now these peculiar movements of the head and eyes are movements customary with persons engaged in meditation, and the ingenious Baron Kempelen would have adapted these movements (were the machine a pure machine) to occasions proper for their display — that is, to occasions of complexity. But the reverse is seen to be the case, and this reverse applies precisely to our supposition of a man in the interior. When engaged in meditation about the game he has no time to think of setting in motion the mechanism of the Automaton by which are moved the head and the eyes. When the game, however, is obvious, he has time to look about him, and, accordingly, we see the head shake and the eyes roll.

5. When the machine is rolled round to allow the spectators an examination of the back of the Turk, and when his drapery is lifted up and the doors in the trunk and thigh thrown open, the interior of the trunk is seen to be crowded with machinery. In scrutinizing this machinery while the Automaton was in motion, that is to say while the whole machine was moving on the castors, it appeared to us that certain portions of the mechanism changed their shape and position in a degree too great to be accounted for by the simple laws of perspective; and subsequent examinations convinced us that these undue alterations were attributable to mirrors in the interior of the trunk. The introduction of mirrors among the machinery could not have been intended to influence, in any degree, the machinery itself. Their operation, whatever that operation should prove to be, must necessarily have reference to the eye of the spectator. We at once concluded that these mirrors were so placed to multiply to the vision some few pieces of machinery within the trunk so as to give it the appearance of being crowded with mechanism. Now the direct inference from this is that the machine is not a pure machine. For if it were, the inventor, so far from wishing its mechanism to appear complex, and using deception for the purpose of giving it this appearance, would have been especially desirous of convincing those who witnessed his exhibition, of the simplicity of the means by which results so wonderful were brought about.

6. The external appearance, and, especially, the deportment of the Turk, are, when we consider them as imitations of life, but very indifferent imitations. The countenance evinces no ingenuity, and is surpassed, in its resemblance to the human face, by the very commonest of wax-works. The eyes roll unnaturally in the head, without any corresponding motions of the lids or brows. The arm, particularly, performs its operations in an exceedingly stiff, awkward, jerking, and rectangular manner. Now, all this is the result either of inability in Maelzel to do better, or of intentional neglect — accidental neglect being out of the question, when we consider that the whole time of the ingenious proprietor is occupied in the improvement of his machines. Most assuredly we must not refer the unlife-like appearances to inability — for all the rest of Maelzel’s automata are evidence of his full ability to copy the motions and peculiarities of life with the most wonderful exactitude. The rope-dancers, for example, are inimitable. When the clown laughs, his lips, his eyes, his eye-brows, and eye-lids — indeed, all the features of his countenance — are imbued with their appropriate expressions. In both him and his companion, every gesture is so entirely easy, and free from the semblance of artificiality, that, were it not for the diminutiveness of their size, and the fact of their being passed from one spectator to another previous to their exhibition on the rope, it would be difficult to convince any assemblage of persons that these wooden automata were not living creatures. We cannot, therefore, doubt Mr. Maelzel’s ability, and we must necessarily suppose that he intentionally suffered his Chess-Player to remain the same artificial and unnatural figure which Baron Kempelen (no doubt also through design) originally made it. What this design was it is not difficult to conceive. Were the Automaton life-like in its motions, the spectator would be more apt to attribute its operations to their true cause, (that is, to human agency within) than he is now, when the awkward and rectangular manœuvres convey the idea of pure and unaided mechanism.

7. When, a short time previous to the commencement of the game, the Automaton is wound up by the exhibiter as usual, an ear in any degree accustomed to the sounds produced in winding up a system of machinery, will not fail to discover, instantaneously, that the axis turned by the key in the box of the Chess-Player, cannot possibly be connected with either a weight, a spring, or any system of machinery whatever. The inference here is the same as in our last observation. The winding up is inessential to the operations of the Automaton, and is performed with the design of exciting in the spectators the false idea of mechanism.

8. When the question is demanded explicitly of Maelzel — “Is the Automaton a pure machine or not?” his reply is invariably the same — “I will say nothing about it.” Now the notoriety of the Automaton, and the great curiosity it has every where excited, are owing more especially to the prevalent opinion that it is a pure machine, than to any other circumstance. Of course, then, it is the interest of the proprietor to represent it as a pure machine. And what more obvious, and more effectual method could there be of impressing the spectators with this desired idea, than a positive and explicit declaration to that effect? On the other hand, what more obvious and effectual method could there be of exciting a disbelief in the Automaton’s being a pure machine, than by withholding such explicit declaration? For, people will naturally reason thus, — It is Maelzel’s interest to represent this thing a pure machine — he refuses to do so, directly, in words, although he does not scruple, and is evidently anxious to do so, indirectly by actions — were it actually what he wishes to represent it by actions, he would gladly avail himself of the more direct testimony of words — the inference is, that a consciousness of its not being a pure machine, is the reason of his silence — his actions cannot implicate him in a falsehood — his words may.

9. When, in exhibiting the interior of the box, Maelzel has thrown open the door No. 1, and also the door immediately behind it, he holds a lighted candle at the back door (as mentioned above) and moves the entire machine to and fro with a view of convincing the company that the cupboard No. 1 is entirely filled with machinery. When the machine is thus moved about, it will be apparent to any careful observer, that whereas that portion of the machinery near the front door No. 1, is perfectly steady and unwavering, the portion farther within fluctuates, in a very slight degree, with the movements of the machine. This circumstance first aroused in us the suspicion that the more remote portion of the machinery was so arranged as to be easily slipped, en masse, from its position when occasion should require it. This occasion we have already stated to occur when the man concealed within brings his body into an erect position upon the closing of the back door.

10. Sir David Brewster states the figure of the Turk to be of the size of life — but in fact it is far above the ordinary size. Nothing is more easy than to err in our notions of magnitude. The body of the Automaton is generally insulated, and, having no means of immediately comparing it with any human form, we suffer ourselves to consider it as of ordinary dimensions. This mistake may, however, be corrected by observing the Chess-Player when, as is sometimes the case, the exhibiter approaches it. Mr. Maelzel, to be sure, is not very tall, but upon drawing near the machine, his head will be found at least eighteen inches below the head of the Turk, although the latter, it will be remembered, is in a sitting position.

11. The box behind which the Automaton is placed, is precisely three feet six inches long, two feet four inches deep, and two feet six inches high. These dimensions are fully sufficient for the accommodation of a man very much above the common size — and the main compartment alone is capable of holding any ordinary man in the position we have mentioned as assumed by the person concealed. As these are facts, which any one who doubts them may prove by actual calculation, we deem it unnecessary to dwell upon them. We will only suggest that, although the top of the box is apparently a board of about three inches in thickness, the spectator may satisfy himself by stooping and looking up at it when the main compartment is open, that it is in reality very thin. The height of the drawer also will be misconceived by those who examine it in a cursory manner. There is a space of about three inches between the top of the drawer as seen from the exterior, and the bottom of the cupboard — a space which must be included in the height of the drawer. These contrivances to make the room within the box appear less than it actually is, are referrible to a design on the part of the inventor, to impress the company again with a false idea, viz. that no human being can be accommodated within the box.

12. The interior of the main compartment is lined throughout with cloth. This cloth we suppose to have a twofold object. A portion of it may form, when tightly stretched, the only partitions which there is any necessity for removing during the changes of the man’s position, viz: the partition between the rear of the main compartment and the rear of the cupboard No. 1, and the partition between the main compartment, and the space behind the drawer when open. If we imagine this to be the case, the difficulty of shifting the partitions vanishes at once, if indeed any such difficulty could be supposed under any circumstances to exist. The second object of the cloth is to deaden and render indistinct all sounds occasioned by the movements of the person within.

13. The antagonist (as we have before observed) is not suffered to play at the board of the Automaton, but is seated at some distance from the machine. The reason which, most probably, would be assigned for this circumstance, if the question were demanded, is, that were the antagonist otherwise situated, his person would intervene between the machine and the spectators, and preclude the latter from a distinct view. But this difficulty might be easily obviated, either by elevating the seats of the company, or by turning the end of the box towards them during the game. The true cause of the restriction is, perhaps, very different. Were the antagonist seated in contact with the box, the secret would be liable to discovery, by his detecting, with the aid of a quick car, the breathings of the man concealed.

14. Although M. Maelzel, in disclosing the interior of the machine, sometimes slightly deviates from the routine which we have pointed out, yet never in any instance does he so deviate from it as to interfere with our solution. For example, he has been known to open, first of all, the drawer — but he never opens the main compartment without first closing the back door of cupboard No. 1 — he never opens the main compartment without first pulling out the drawer — he never shuts the drawer without first shutting the main compartment — he never opens the back door of cupboard No. 1 while the main compartment is open — and the game of chess is never commenced until the whole machine is closed. Now, if it were observed that never, in any single instance, did M. Maelzel differ from the routine we have pointed out as necessary to our solution, it would be one of the strongest possible arguments in corroboration of it — but the argument becomes infinitely strengthened if we duly consider the circumstance that he does occasionally deviate from the routine, but never does so deviate as to falsify the solution.

15. There are six candles on the board of the Automaton during exhibition. The question naturally arises — “Why are so many employed, when a single candle, or, at farthest, two, would have been amply sufficient to afford the spectators a clear view of the board, in a room otherwise so well lit up as the exhibition room always is — when, moreover, if we suppose the machine a pure machine, there can be no necessity for so much light, or indeed any light at all, to enable it to perform its operations — and when, especially, only a single candle is placed upon the table of the antagonist?” The first and most obvious inference is, that so strong a light is requisite to enable the man within to see through the transparent material (probably fine gauze) of which the breast of the Turk is composed. But when we consider the arrangement of the candles, another reason immediately presents itself. There are six lights (as we have said before) in all. Three of these are on each side of the figure. Those most remote from the spectators are the longest — those in the middle are about two inches shorter — and those nearest the company about two inches shorter still — and the candles on one side differ in height from the candles respectively opposite on the other, by a ratio different from two inches — that is to say, the longest candle on one side is about three inches shorter than the longest candle on the other, and so on. Thus it will be seen that no two of the candles are of the same height, and thus also the difficulty of ascertaining the material of the breast of the figure (against which the light is especially directed) is greatly augmented by the dazzling effect of the complicated crossings of the rays — crossings which are brought about by placing the centres of radiation all upon different levels.

16. While the Chess-Player was in possession of Baron Kempelen, it was more than once observed, first, that an Italian in the suite of the Baron was never visible during the playing of a game at chess by the Turk, and, secondly, that the Italian being taken seriously ill, the exhibition was suspended until his recovery. This Italian professed a total ignorance of the game of chess, although all others of the suite played well. Similar observations have been made since the Automaton has been purchased by Maelzel. There is a man, Schlumberger, who attends him wherever he goes, but who has no ostensible occupation other than that of assisting in the packing and unpacking of the automata. This man is about the medium size, and has a remarkable stoop in the shoulders. Whether he professes to play chess or not, we are not informed. It is quite certain, however, that he is never to be seen during the exhibition of the Chess-Player, although frequently visible just before and just after the exhibition. Moreover, some years ago Maelzel visited Richmond with his automata, and exhibited them, we believe, in the house now occupied by M. Bossieux as a Dancing Academy. Schlumberg er was suddenly taken ill, and during his illness there was no exhibition of the Chess-Player. These facts are well known to many of our citizens. The reason assigned for the suspension of the Chess-Player’s performances, was not the illness of Schlumberger. The inferences from all this we leave, without farther comment, to the reader.

17. The Turk plays with his left arm. A circumstance so remarkable cannot be accidental. Brewster takes no notice of it whatever, beyond a mere statement, we believe, that such is the fact. The early writers of treatises on the Automaton, seem not to have observed the matter at all, and have no reference to it. The author of the pamphlet alluded to by Brewster, mentions it, but acknowledges his inability to account for it. Yet it is obviously from such prominent discrepancies or incongruities as this that deductions are to be made (if made at all) which shall lead us to the truth.

The circumstance of the Automaton’s playing with his left hand cannot have connexion with the operations of the machine, considered merely as such. Any mechanical arrangement which would cause the figure to move, in any given manner, the left arm — could, if reversed, cause it to move, in the same manner, the right. But these principles cannot be extended to the human organization, wherein there is a marked and radical difference in the construction, and, at all events, in the powers, of the right and left arms. Reflecting upon this latter fact, we naturally refer the incongruity noticeable in the Chess-Player to this peculiarity in the human organization. If so, we must imagine some reversion — for the Chess-Player plays precisely as a man would not. These ideas, once entertained, are sufficient of themselves, to suggest the notion of a man in the interior. A few more imperceptible steps lead us, finally, to the result. The Automaton plays with his left arm, because under no other circumstances could the man within play with his right — a desideratum of course. Let us, for example, imagine the Automaton to play with his right arm. To reach the machinery which moves the arm, and which we have before explained to lie just beneath the shoulder, it would be necessary for the man within either to use his right arm in an exceedingly painful and awkward position, (viz. brought up close to his body and tightly compressed between his body and the side of the Automaton,) or else to use his left arm brought across his breast. In neither case could he act with the requisite ease or precision. On the contrary, the Automaton playing, as it actually does, with the left arm, all difficulties vanish. The right arm of the man within is brought across his breast, and his right fingers act, without any constraint, upon the machinery in the shoulder of the figure.

We do not believe that any reasonable objections can be urged against this solution of the Automaton Chess-Player.

3

The Culprit Fay, and other Poems by Joseph Rodman Drake. New York: George Dearborn.

Alnwick Castle, with other Poems, by Fitz-Greene Halleck. New York: George Dearborn.

Before entering upon the detailed notice which we propose of the volumes before us, we wish to speak a few words in regard to the present state of American criticism.

It must be visible to all who meddle with literary matters, that of late years a thorough revolution has been effected in the censorship of our press. That this revolution is infinitely for the worse we believe. There was a time, it is true, when we cringed to foreign opinion — let us even say when we paid most servile deference to British critical dicta. That an American book could, by any possibility, be worthy perusal, was an idea by no means extensively prevalent in the land; and if we were induced to read at all the productions of our native writers, it was only after repeated assurances from England that such productions were not altogether contemptible. But there was, at all events, a shadow of excuse, and a slight basis of reason for a subserviency so grotesque. Even now, perhaps, it would not be far wrong to assert that such basis of reason may still exist. Let us grant that in many of the abstract sciences — that even in Theology, in Medicine, in Law, in Oratory, in the Mechanical Arts, we have no competitors whatever, still nothing but the most egregious national vanity would assign us a place, in the matter of Polite Literature, upon a level with the elder and riper climes of Europe, the earliest steps of whose children are among the groves of magnificently endowed Academies, and whose innumerable men of leisure, and of consequent learning, drink daily from those august fountains of inspiration which burst around them everywhere from out the tombs of their immortal dead, and from out their hoary and trophied monuments of chivalry and song. In paying then, as a nation, a respectful and not undue deference to a supremacy rarely questioned but by prejudice or ignorance, we should, of course, be doing nothing more than acting in a rational manner. The excess of our subserviency was blamable — but, as we have before said, this very excess might have found a shadow of excuse in the strict justice, if properly regulated, of the principle from which it issued. Not so, however, with our present follies. We are becoming boisterous and arrogant in the pride of a too speedily assumed literary freedom. We throw off, with the most presumptuous and unmeaning hauteur, all deference whatever to foreign opinion — we forget, in the puerile inflation of vanity, that the world is the true theatre of the biblical histrio — we get up a hue and cry about the necessity of encouraging native writers of merit — we blindly fancy that we can accomplish this by indiscriminate puffing of good, bad, and indifferent, without taking the trouble to consider that what we choose to denominate encouragement is thus, by its general application, rendered precisely the reverse. In a word, so far from being ashamed of the many disgraceful literary failures to which our own inordinate vanities and misapplied patriotism have lately given birth, and so far from deeply lamenting that these daily puerilities are of home manufacture, we adhere pertinaciously to our original blindly conceived idea, and thus often find ourselves involved in the gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better, because, sure enough, its stupidity is American.*

Deeply lamenting this unjustifiable state of public feeling, it has been our constant endeavor, since assuming the Editorial duties of this Journal, to stem, with what little abilities we possess, a current so disastrously undermining the health and prosperity of our literature.

We have seen our efforts applauded by men whose applauses we value. From all quarters we have received abundant private as well as public testimonials in favor of our Critical Notices, and, until very lately, have heard from no respectable source one word impugning their integrity or candor. In looking over, however, a number of the New York Commercial Advertiser, we meet with the following paragraph.

The last number of the Southern Literary Messenger is very readable and respectable. The contributions to the Messenger are much better than the original matter. The critical department of this work — much as it would seem to boast itself of impartiality and discernment, — is in our opinion decidedly quacky. There is in it a great assumption of acumen, which is completely unsustained. Many a work has been slashingly condemned therein, of which the critic himself could not write a page, were he to die for it. This affectation of eccentric sternness in criticism, without the power to back one’s suit withal, so far from deserving praise, as some suppose, merits the strongest reprehension. — [Philadelphia Gazette.

We are entirely of opinion with the Philadelphia Gazette in relation to the Southern Literary Messenger, and take this occasion to express our total dissent from the numerous and lavish encomiums we have seen bestowed upon its critical notices. Some few of them have been judicious, fair and candid; bestowing praise and censure with judgement and impartiality; but by far the greater number of those we have read, have been flippant, unjust, untenable and uncritical. The duty of the critic is to act as judge, not as enemy, of the writer whom he reviews; a distinction of which the Zoilus of the Messenger seems not to be aware. It is possible to review a book sincerely, without bestowing opprobrious epithets upon the writer, to condemn with courtesy, if not with kindness. The critic of the Messenger has been eulogized for his scorching and scarifying abilities, and he thinks it incumbent upon him to keep up his reputation in that line, by sneers, sarcasm and downright abuse; by straining his vision with microscopic intensity in search of faults, and shutting his eyes, with all his might to beauties. Moreover, we have detected him, more than once, in blunders quite as gross as those on which it was his pleasure to descant.*

In the paragraph from the Philadelphia Gazette, (which is edited by Mr. Willis Gaylord Clark, one of the editors of the Knickerbocker) we find nothing at which we have any desire to take exception. Mr. C. has a right to think us quacky if he pleases, and we do not remember having assumed for a moment that we could write a single line of the works we have reviewed. But there is something equivocal, to say the least, in the remarks of Col. Stone. He acknowledges that “some of our notices have been judicious, fair, and candid bestowing praise and censure with judgment and impartiality.” This being the case, how can he reconcile his total dissent from the public verdict in our favor, with the dictates of justice? We are accused too of bestowing “opprobrious epithets” upon writers whom we review and in the paragraphs so accusing us are called nothing less than “flippant, unjust and uncritical.”

But there is another point of which we disapprove. While in our reviews we have at all times been particularly careful not to deal in generalities, and have never, if we remember aright, advanced in any single instance an unsupported assertion, our accuser has forgotten to give us any better evidence of our flippancy, injustice, personality, and gross blundering, than the solitary dictum of Col. Stone. We call upon the Colonel for assistance in this dilemma. We wish to be shown our blunders that we may correct them — to be made aware of our flippancy that we may avoid it hereafter — and above all to have our personalities pointed out that we may proceed forthwith with a repentant spirit, to make the amende honorable. In default of this aid from the Editor of the Commercial we shall take it for granted that we are neither blunderers, flippant, personal, nor unjust.

Who will deny that in regard to individual poems no definitive opinions can exist, so long as to Poetry in the abstract we attach no definitive idea? Yet it is a common thing to hear our critics, day after day, pronounce, with a positive air, laudatory or condemnatory sentences, en masse, upon material works of whose merits or demerits they have, in the first place, virtually confessed an utter ignorance, in confessing it ignorance of all determinate principles by which to regulate a decision. Poetry has never been defined to the satisfaction of all parties. Perhaps, in the present condition of language it never will be. Words cannot hem it in. Its intangible and purely spiritual nature refuses to be bound down within the widest horizon of mere sounds. But it is not, therefore, misunderstood — at least, not by all men is it misunderstood. Very far from it, if indeed, there be any one circle of thought distinctly and palpably marked out from amid the jarring and tumultuous chaos of human intelligence, it is that evergreen and radiant Paradise which the true poet knows, and knows alone, as the limited realm of his authority — as the circumscribed Eden of his dreams. But a definition is a thing of words — a conception of ideas. And thus while we readily believe that Poesy, the term, it will be troublesome, if not impossible to define — still, with its image vividly existing in the world, we apprehend no difficulty in so describing Poesy, the Sentiment, as to imbue even the most obtuse intellect with a comprehension of it sufficiently distinct for all the purposes of practical analysis.

To look upwards from any existence, material or immaterial to its design, is, perhaps, the most direct, and the most unerring method of attaining a just notion of the nature of the existence itself. Nor is the principle at fault when we turn our eyes from Nature even to Natures God. We find certain faculties, implanted within us, and arrive at a more plausible conception of the character and attributes of those faculties, by considering, with what finite judgment we possess, the intention of the Deity in so implanting them within us, than by any actual investigation of their powers, or any speculative deductions from their visible and material effects. Thus, for example, we discover in all men a disposition to look with reverence upon superiority, whether real or supposititious. In some, this disposition is to be recognized with difficulty, and, in very peculiar cases, we are occasionally even led to doubt its existence altogether, until circumstances beyond the common routine bring it accidentally into development. In others again it forms a prominent and distinctive feature of character, and is rendered palpably evident in its excesses. But in all human beings it is, in a greater or less degree, finally perceptible. It has been, therefore, justly considered a primitive sentiment. Phrenologists call it Veneration. It is, indeed, the instinct given to man by God as security for his own worship. And although, preserving its nature, it becomes perverted from its principal purpose, and although swerving from that purpose, it serves to modify the relations of human society — the relations of father and child, of master and slave, of the ruler and the ruled — its primitive essence is nevertheless the same, and by a reference to primal causes, may at any moment be determined.

Very nearly akin to this feeling, and liable to the same analysis, is the Faculty of Ideality — which is the sentiment of Poesy. This sentiment is the sense of the beautiful, of the sublime, and of the mystical.* Thence spring immediately admiration of the fair flowers, the fairer forests, the bright valleys and rivers and mountains of the Earth — and love of the gleaming stars and other burning glories of Heaven — and, mingled up inextricably with this love and this admiration of Heaven and of Earth, the unconquerable desire — to know. Poesy is the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness here, and the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter.† Imagination is its soul.* With the passions of mankind — although it may modify them greatly — although it may exalt, or inflame, or purify, or control them — it would require little ingenuity to prove that it has no inevitable, and indeed no necessary co-existence. We have hitherto spoken of poetry in the abstract: we come now to speak of it in its everyday acceptation — that is to say, of the practical result arising from the sentiment we have considered.

And now it appears evident, that since Poetry, in this new sense, is the practical result, expressed in language, of this Poetic Sentiment in certain individuals, the only proper method of testing the merits of a poem is by measuring its capabilities of exciting the Poetic Sentiments in others. And to this end we have many aids — in observation, in experience, in ethical analysis, and in the dictates of common sense. Hence the Poeta nascitur, which is indisputably true if we consider the Poetic Sentiment, becomes the merest of absurdities when we regard it in reference to the practical result. We do not hesitate to say that a man highly endowed with the powers of Causality — that is to say, a man of metaphysical acumen — will, even with a very deficient share of Ideality, compose a finer poem (if we test it, as we should, by its measure of exciting the Poetic Sentiment) than one who, without such metaphysical acumen, shall be gifted, in the most extraordinary degree, with the faculty of Ideality. For a poem is not the Poetic faculty, but the means of exciting it in mankind. Now these means the metaphysician may discover by analysis of their effects in other cases than his own, without even conceiving the nature of these effects — thus arriving at a result which the unaided Ideality of his competitor would be utterly unable, except by accident, to attain. It is more than possible that the man who, of all writers, living or dead, has been most successful in writing the purest of all poems — that is to say, poems which excite more purely, most exclusively, and most powerfully the imaginative faculties in men — owed his extraordinary and almost magical preeminence rather to metaphysical than poetical powers. We allude to the author of Christabel, of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and of Love — to Coleridge — whose head, if we mistake not its character, gave no great phrenological tokens of Ideality, while the organs of Causality and Comparison were most singularly developed.

Perhaps at this particular moment there are no American poems held in so high estimation by our countrymen, as the poems of Drake, and of Halleck. The exertions of Mr. George Dearborn have no doubt a far greater share in creating this feeling than the lovers of literature for its own sake and spiritual uses would be willing to admit. We have indeed seldom seen more beautiful volumes than the volumes now before us. But an adventitious interest of a loftier nature — the interest of the living in the memory of the beloved dead — attaches itself to the few literary remains of Drake. The poems which are now given to us with his name are nineteen in number; and whether all, or whether even the best of his writings, it is our present purpose to speak of these alone, since upon this edition his poetical reputation to all time will most probably depend.

It is only lately that we have read The Culprit Fay. This is a poem of six hundred and forty irregular lines, generally iambic, and divided into thirty-six stanzas, of unequal length. The scene of the narrative, as we ascertain from the single line,

The moon looks down on old Cronest,

is principally in the vicinity of West Point on the Hudson. The plot is as follows. An Ouphe, one of the race of Fairies, has “broken his vestal vow,”

He has loved an earthly maid

And left for her his woodland shade;

He has lain upon her lip of dew,

And sunned him in her eye of blue, Fann’d her cheek with his wing of air,

Play’d with the ringlets of her hair,

And, nestling on her snowy breast,

Forgot the lily-kings behest —

in short, he has broken Fairy-law in becoming enamored of a mortal. The result of this misdemeanor we could not express so well as the poet, and will therefore make use of the language put into the mouth of the Fairy-King who reprimands the criminal.

Fairy! Fairy! list and mark,

Thou hast broke thine elfin chain,

Thy flame-wood lamp is quench’d and dark

And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain.

The Ouphe being in this predicament, it has become necessary that his case and crime should be investigated by a jury of his fellows, and to this end the “shadowy tribes of air” are summoned by the “sentry elve” who has been awakened by the “wood-tick” — are summoned we say to the “elfin-court” at midnight to hear the doom of the Culprit Fay.

“Had a stain been found on the earthly fair,” whose blandishments so bewildered the little Ouphe, his punishment would have been severe indeed. In such case he would have been (as we learn from the Fairy judge’s exposition of the criminal code,)

Tied to the hornet’s shardy wings;

Tossed on the pricks of nettles’ stings;

Or seven long ages doomed to dwell

With the lazy worm in the walnut shell;

Or every night to writhe and bleed

Beneath the tread of the centipede,

Or bound in a cobweb dungeon dim

His jailer a spider huge and grim,

Amid the carrion bodies to lie

Of the worm and the bug and the murdered fly —

Fortunately, however, for the Culprit, his mistress is proved to be of “sinless mind” and under such redeeming circumstances the sentence is, mildly, as follows —

Thou shalt seek the beach of sand

Where the water bounds the elfin land,

Thou shalt watch the oozy brine

Till the sturgeon leaps in the bright moonshine,

Then dart the glistening arch below,

* * * * * *

And catch a drop from his silver bow.

If the spray-bead be won

The stain of thy wing is washed away,

But another errand must be done

Ere thy crime be lost for aye;

Thy flame-wood lamp is quenched and dark,

Thou must re-illume its spark.

Mount thy steed and spur him high

To the heaven’s blue canopy,

And when thou seest a shooting star

Follow it fast and follow it far

The last faint spark of its burning train

Shall light the elfin lamp again.

Upon this sin, and upon this sentence, depends the web of the narrative, which is now occupied with the elfin difficulties overcome by the Ouphe in washing away the stain of his wing, and re-illuming his flame-wood lamp. His soiled pinion having lost its power, he is under the necessity of wending his way on foot from the Elfin court upon Cronest to the river beach at its base. His path is encumbered at every step with “bog and briar,” with “brook and mire,” with “beds of tangled fern,” with “groves of night-shade,” and with the minor evils of ant and snake. Happily, however, a spotted toad coming in sight, our adventurer jumps upon her back, and “bridling her mouth with a silk-weed twist” bounds merrily along

Till the mountain’s magic verge is past

And the beach of sand is reached at last.

Alighting now from his “courser-toad” the Ouphe folds his wings around his bosom, springs on a rock, breathes a prayer, throws his arms above his head,

Then tosses a tiny curve in air

And plunges in the waters blue.

Here, however, a host of difficulties await him by far too multitudinous to enumerate. We will content ourselves with simply stating the names of his most respectable assailants. These are the “spirits of the wave” dressed in “snail-plate armor” and aided by the “mailed shrimp,” the “prickly prong,” the “blood-red leech,” the “stony star-fish,” the “jellied quarl,” the “soldier-crab,” and the “lancing squab.” But the hopes of our hero are high, and his limbs are strong, so

He spreads his arms like the swallow’s wing,

And throws his feet with a frog-like fling.

All however, is to no purpose.

On his thigh the leech has fixed his hold,

The quarl’s long arms are round him roll’d,

The prickly prong has pierced his skin,

And the squab has thrown his javelin,

The gritty star has rubb’d him raw,

And the crab has struck with his giant claw;

He bawls with rage, and he shrieks with pain

He strikes around but his blows are vain —

So then,

He turns him round and flies amain

With hurry and dash to the beach again.

Arrived safely on land our Fairy friend now gathers the dew from the “sorrel-leaf and henbane-bud” and bathing therewith his wounds, finally ties them up with cobweb. Thus recruited, he

—— treads the fatal shore

As fresh and vigorous as before.

At length espying a “purple-muscle shell” upon the beach, he determines to use it as a boat and thus evade the animosity of the water spirits whose powers extend not above the wave. Making a “sculler’s notch” in the stern, and providing himself with an oar of the bootle-blade, the Ouphe a second time ventures upon the deep. His perils are now diminished, but still great. The imps of the river heave the billows up before the prow of the boat, dash the surges against her side, and strike against her keel. The quarl uprears “his island-back” in her path, and the scallop, floating in the rear of the vessel, spatters it all over with water. Our adventurer, however, bails it out with the colen bell (which he has luckily provided for the purpose of catching the drop from the silver bow of the sturgeon,) and keeping his little bark warily trimmed, holds on his course undiscomfited.

The object of his first adventure is at length discovered in a “brownbacked sturgeon,” who

Like the heaven-shot javelin

Springs above the waters blue,

And, instant as the star-fall light

Plunges him in the deep again,

But leaves an arch of silver bright,

The rainbow of the moony main.

From this rainbow our Ouphe succeeds in catching, by means of his colen bell cup, a “droplet of the sparkling dew.” One half of his task is accordingly done —

His wings are pure, for the gem is won.

On his return to land, the ripples divide before him, while the water-spirits, so rancorous before, are obsequiously attentive to his comfort. Having tarried a moment on the beach to breathe a prayer, he “spreads his wings of gilded blue” and takes his way to the elfin court — there resting until the cricket, at two in the morning, rouses him up for the second portion of his penance.

His equipments are now an “acorn-helmet,” a “thistle-down plume,” a corslet of the “wild-bee’s” skin, a cloak of the “wings of butterflies,” a shield of the “shell of the lady-bug,” for lance “the sting of a wasp,” for sword a “blade of grass,” for horse “a fire-fly,” and for spurs a couple of “cockle seed.” Thus accoutred,

Away like a glance of thought he flies

To skim the heavens and follow far

The fiery trail of the rocket-star.

In the Heavens he has new dangers to encounter. The “shapes of air” have begun their work — a “drizzly mist” is cast around him — “storm, darkness, sleet and shade” assail him — “shadowy hands” twitch at his bridle-rein — “flame-shot tongues” play around him — “fiendish eyes” glare upon him — and

Yells of rage and shrieks of fear

Come screaming on his startled ear.

Still our adventurer is nothing daunted.

He thrusts before, and he strikes behind,

Till he pierces the cloudy bodies through

And gashes the shadowy limbs of wind.

and the Elfin makes no stop, until he reaches the “bank of the milky way.” He there checks his courser, and watches “for the glimpse of the planet shoot.” While thus engaged, however, an unexpected adventure befalls him. He is approached by a company of the “sylphs of Heaven attired in sunset’s crimson pall.” They dance around him, and “skip before him on the plain.” One receiving his “wasp-sting lance,” and another taking his bridle-rein,

With warblings wild they lead him on,

To where, through clouds of amber seen,

Studded with stars resplendent shone

The palace of the sylphid queen.

A glowing description of the queen’s beauty follows: and as the form of an earthly Fay had never been seen before in the bowers of light, she is represented as falling desperately in love at first sight with our adventurous Ouphe. He returns the compliment in some measure, of course; but, although “his heart bent fitfully,” the “earthly form imprinted there” was a security against a too vivid impression. He declines, consequently, the invitation of the queen to remain with her and amuse himself by “lying within the fleecy drift,” “hanging upon the rainbow’s rim,” having his “brow adorned with all the jewels of the sky,” “sitting within the Pleiad ring,” “resting upon Orion’s belt” “riding upon the lightning’s gleam,” “dancing upon the orbed moon,” and “swimming within the milky way.”

Lady, he cries, I have sworn to-night

On the word of a fairy knight

To do my sentence task aright

The queen, therefore, contents herself with bidding the Fay an affectionate farewell — having first directed him carefully to that particular portion of the sky where a star is about to fall. He reaches this point in safety, and in despite of the “fiends of the cloud,” who “bellow very loud,” succeeds finally in catching a “glimmering spark” with which he returns triumphantly to Fairy-land. The poem closes with an Io Paean chaunted by the elves in honor of these glorious adventures.

It is more than probable that from ten readers of the Culprit Fay, nine would immediately pronounce it a poem betokening the most extraordinary powers of imagination, and of these nine, perhaps five or six, poets themselves, and fully impressed with the truth of what we have already assumed, that Ideality is indeed the soul of the Poetic Sentiment, would feel embarrassed between a half-consciousness that they ought to admire the production, and a wonder that they do not. This embarrassment would then arise from an indistinct conception of the results in which Ideality is rendered manifest. Of these results some few are seen in the Culprit Fay, but the greater part of it is utterly destitute of any evidence of imagination whatever. The general character of the poem will, we think, be sufficiently understood by any one who may have taken the trouble to read our foregoing compendium of the narrative. It will be there seen that what is so frequently termed the imaginative power of this story, lies especially — we should have rather said is thought to lie — in the passages we have quoted, or in others of a precisely similar nature. These passages embody, principally, mere specifications of qualities, of habiliments, of punishments, of occupations, of circumstances, &c., which the poet has believed in unison with the size, firstly, and secondly with the nature of his Fairies. To all which may be added specifications of other animal existences (such as the toad, the beetle, the lance-fly, the fire-fly and the like) supposed also to be in accordance. An example will best illustrate our meaning upon this point —

He put his acorn helmet on;

It was plumed of the silk of the thistle down:

The corslet plate that guarded his breast

Was once the wild bee’s golden vest;

His cloak of a thousand mingled dyes,

Was formed of the wings of butterflies;

His shield was the shell of a lady-bug queen,

Studs of gold on a ground of green;*

And the quivering lance which he brandished bright

Was the sting of a wasp he had slain in fight.

We shall now be understood. Were any of the admirers of the Culprit Fay asked their opinion of these lines, they would most probably speak in high terms of the imagination they display. Yet let the most stolid and the most confessedly unpoetical of these admirers only try the experiment, and he will find, possibly to his extreme surprise, that he himself will have no difficulty whatever in substituting for the equipments of the Fairy, as assigned by the poet, other equipments equally comfortable, no doubt, and equally in unison with the preconceived size, character, and other qualities of the equipped. Why we could accoutre him as well ourselves — let us see.

His blue-bell helmet, we have heard

Was plumed with the down of the hummingbird,

The corslet on his bosom bold

Was once the locust’s coat of gold,

His cloak, of a thousand mingled hues,

Was the velvet violet, wet with dews,

His target was, the crescent shell

Of the small sea Sidrophel,

And a glittering beam from a maiden’s eye

Was the lance which he proudly wav’d on high.

The truth is, that the only requisite for writing verses of this nature, ad libitum is a tolerable acquaintance with the qualities of the objects to be detailed, and a very moderate endowment of the faculty of Comparison — which is the chief constituent of Fancy or the powers of combination. A thousand such lines may be composed without exercising in the least degree the Poetic Sentiment, which is Ideality, Imagination, or the creative ability. And, as we have before said, the greater portion of the Culprit Fay is occupied with these, or similiar things, and upon such, depends very nearly, if not altogether, its reputation. We select another example —

But oh! how fair the shape that lay

Beneath a rainbow bending bright,

She seem’d to the entranced Fay

The loveliest of the forms of light,

Her mantle was the purple rolled

At twilight in the west afar;

T’was tied with threads of dawning gold,

And button’d with a sparkling star.

Her face was like the lily roon

That veils the vestal planet’s hue,

Her eyes, two beamlets from the moon

Set floating in the welkin blue.

Her hair is like the sunny beam,

And the diamond gems which round it gleam

Are the pure drops of dewy even,

That neer have left their native heaven.

Here again the faculty of Comparison is alone exercised, and no mind possessing the faculty in any ordinary degree would find a difficulty in substituting for the materials employed by the poet other materials equally as good. But viewed as mere efforts of the Fancy and without reference to Ideality, the lines just quoted are much worse than those which were taken earlier. A congruity was observable in the accoutrements of the Ouphe, and we had no trouble in forming a distinct conception of his appearance when so accoutred. But the most vivid powers of Comparison can attach no definitive idea to even “the loveliest form of light,” when habited in a mantle of “rolled purple tied with threads of dawn and buttoned with a star,” and sitting at the same time under a rainbow with “beamlet” eyes and a visage of “lily roon.”

But if these things evince no Ideality in their author, do they not excite it in others? — if so, we must conclude, that without being himself imbued with the Poetic Sentiment, he has still succeeded in writing a fine poem — a supposition as we have before endeavored to show, not altogether paradoxical. Most assuredly we think not. In the case of a great majority of readers the only sentiment aroused by compositions of this order is a species of vague wonder at the writer’s ingenuity, and it is this indeterminate sense of wonder which passes but too frequently current for the proper influence of the Poetic power. For our own part we plead guilty to a predominant sense of the ludicrous while occupied in the perusal of the poem before us — a sense whose promptings we sincerely and honestly endeavored to quell, perhaps not altogether successfully, while penning our compend of the narrative. That a feeling of this nature is utterly at war with the Poetic Sentiment will not be disputed by those who comprehend the character of the sentiment itself. This character is finely shadowed out in that popular although vague idea so prevalent throughout all time, that a species of melancholy is inseparably connected with the higher manifestations of the beautiful. But with the numerous and seriously-adduced incongruities of the Culprit Fay, we find it generally impossible to connect other ideas than those of the ridiculous. We are bidden, in the first place, and in a tone of sentiment and language adapted to the loftiest breathings of the Muse, to imagine a race of Fairies in the vicinity of West Point. We are told, with a grave air, of their camp, of their king, and especially of their sentry, who is a wood-tick. We are informed that an Ouphe of about an inch in height has committed a deadly sin in falling in love with a mortal maiden, who may, very possibly, be six feet in her stockings. The consequence to the Ouphe is — what? Why, that he has “dyed his wings,” “broken his elfin chain,” and “quenched his flame-wood lamp.” And he is therefore sentenced to what? To catch a spark from the tail of a falling star, and a drop of water from the belly of a sturgeon. What are his equipments for the first adventure? An acorn-helmet, a thistle-down plume, a butterfly cloak, a lady-bug shield, cockle-seed spurs, and a fire-fly horse. How does he ride to the second? On the back of a bullfrog. What are his opponents in the one? “Drizzle-mists,” “sulphur and smoke,” “shadowy hands and flame-shot tongues.” What in the other? “Mailed shrimps,” “prickly prongs,” “blood-red leeches,” “jellied quarls,” “stony star fishes,” “lancing squabs” and “soldier crabs.” Is that all? No — Although only an inch high he is in imminent danger of seduction from a “sylphid queen,” dressed in a mantle of “rolled purple,” “tied with threads of dawning gold,” “buttoned with a sparkling star,” and sitting under a rainbow with “beamlet eyes” and a countenance of “lily roon.” In our account of all this matter we have had reference to the book — and to the book alone. It will be difficult to prove us guilty in any degree of distortion or exaggeration. Yet such are the puerilities we daily find ourselves called upon to admire, as among the loftiest efforts of the human mind, and which not to assign a rank with the proud trophies of the matured and vigorous genius of England, is to prove ourselves at once a fool; a maligner, and no patriot.*

As an instance of what may be termed the sublimely ridiculous we quote the following lines —

With sweeping tail and quivering fin,

Through the wave the sturgeon flew,

And like the heaven-shot javelin,

He sprung above the waters blue.

 

Instant as the star-fall light,

He plunged into the deep again,

But left an arch of silver bright

The rainbow of the moony main.

 

It was a strange and lovely sight

To see the puny goblin there,

He seemed an angel form of light

With azure wing and sunny hair,

Throned on a cloud of purple fair

Circled with blue and edged with white

And sitting at the fall of even

Beneath the bow of summer heaven.

The [lines of the last verse], if considered without their context, have a certain air of dignity, elegance, and chastity of thought. If however we apply the context, we are immediately overwhelmed with the grotesque. It is impossible to read without laughing, such expressions as “It was a strange and lovely sight” — “He seemed an angel form of light” — “And sitting at the fall of even, beneath the bow of summer heaven” to a Fairy — a goblin — an Ouphe — half an inch high, dressed in an acorn helmet and butterfly-cloak, and sitting on the water in a muscleshell, with a “brown-backed sturgeon” turning somersets over his head.

In a world where evil is a mere consequence of good, and good a mere consequence of evil — in short where all of which we have any conception is good or bad only by comparison — we have never yet been fully able to appreciate the validity of that decision which would debar the critic from enforcing upon his readers the merits or demerits of a work with another. It seems to us that an adage has had more to do with this popular feeling than any just reason founded upon common sense. Thinking thus, we shall have no scruple in illustrating our opinion in regard to what is not Ideality or the Poetic Power, by an example of what is.*

We have already given the description of the Sylphid Queen in the Culprit Fay. In the Queen Mab of Shelley a Fairy is thus introduced —

Those who had looked upon the sight

Passing all human glory,

Saw not the yellow moon,

Saw not the mortal scene,

Heard not the night wind’s rush,

Heard not an earthly sound,

Saw but the fairy pageant,

Heard but the heavenly strains

That filled the lonely dwelling —

and thus described —

The Fairy’s frame was slight, yon fibrous cloud

That catches but the faintest tinge of even,

And which the straining eye can hardly seize

When melting into eastern twilight’s shadow,

Were scarce so thin, so slight; but the fair star

That gems the glittering coronet of morn,

Sheds not a light so mild, so powerful,

As that which, bursting from the Fairy’s form,

Spread a purpureal halo round the scene,

Yet with an undulating motion,

Swayed to her outline gracefully.

In these exquisite lines the Faculty of mere Comparison is but little exercised — that of Ideality in a wonderful degree. It is probable that in a similar case the poet we are now reviewing would have formed the face of the Fairy of the “fibrous cloud,” her arms of the “pale tinge of even,” her eyes of the “fair stars,” and her body of the “twilight shadow.” Having so done, his admirers would have congratulated him upon his imagination, not, taking the trouble to think that they themselves could at any moment imagine a Fairy of materials equally as good, and conveying an equally distinct idea. Their mistake would be precisely analogous to that of many a schoolboy who admires the imagination displayed in Jack the Giant-Killer, and is finally rejoiced at; discovering his own imagination to surpass that of the author, since the monsters destroyed by Jack are only about forty feet in height, and he himself has no trouble in imagining some of one hundred and forty. It will, be seen that the Fairy of Shelley is not a mere compound of incongruous natural objects, inartificially put together, and unaccompanied by any moral sentiment — but a being, in the illustration of whose nature some physical elements are used collaterally as adjuncts, while the main conception springs immediately or thus apparently springs, from the brain of the poet, enveloped in the moral sentiments of grace, of color, of motion — of the beautiful, of the mystical, of the august — in short of the ideal.*

It is by no means our intention to deny that in the Culprit Fay are passages of a different order from those to which we have objected — passages evincing a degree of imagination not to be discovered in the plot, conception, or general execution of the poem. The opening stanza will afford us a tolerable example.

’Tis the middle watch of a summer’s night —

The earth is dark but the heavens are bright

Naught is seen in the vault on high

But the moon, and the stars, and the cloudless sky,

And the flood which rolls its milky hue

A river of light on the welkin blue.

The moon looks down on old Cronest,

She mellows the shades of his shaggy breast,

And seems his huge gray form to throw

In a silver cone on the wave below,

His sides are broken by spots of shade,

By the walnut bow and the cedar made,

And through their clustering branches dark

Glimmers and dies the fire-fly’s spark —

Like starry twinkles that momently break

Through the rifts of the gathering tempest rack.

There is Ideality in these lines — but except in the case of the [second and the fourteenth lines] — it is Ideality not of a high order. We have, it is true, a collection of natural objects, each individually of great beauty, and, if actually seen as in nature, capable of exciting in any mind, through the means of the Poetic Sentiment more or less inherent in all, a certain sense of the beautiful. But to view such natural objects as they exist, and to behold them through the medium of words, are different things. Let us pursue the idea that such a collection as we have here will produce, of necessity, the Poetic Sentiment, and we may as well make up our minds to believe that a catalogue of such expressions as moon, sky, trees, rivers, mountains, &c., shall be capable of exciting it, — it is merely an extension of the principle. But in the line “the earth is dark, but the heavens are bright” besides the simple mention of the “dark earth” “and the bright heaven,” we have, directly, the moral sentiment of the brightness of the sky compensating for the darkness of the earth — and thus, indirectly, of the happiness of a future state compensating for the miseries of the present. All this is effected by the simple introduction of the word but between the “dark earth” and the “bright heaven” — this introduction, however, was prompted by the Poetic Sentiment, and by the Poetic Sentiment alone. The case is analogous in the expression “glimmers and dies,” where the imagination is exalted by the moral sentiment of beauty heightened in dissolution.

In one or two shorter passages of the Culprit Fay the poet will recognize the purely ideal, and be able at a glance to distinguish it from that baser alloy upon which we have descanted. We give them without farther comment.

The winds are whist, and the owl is still,

The bat in the shelvy rock is hid

And naught is heard on the lonely hill

But the cricket’s chirp and the answer shrill

Of the gauze-winged katydid;

And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill

Who mourns unseen, and ceaseless sings

Ever a note of wail and wo —

 

Up to the vaulted firmament

His path the fire-fly courser bent,

And at every gallop on the wind

He flung a glittering spark behind.

 

He blessed the force of the charmed line

And he banned the water-goblins’ spite,

For he saw around in the sweet moonshine,

Their little wee faces above the brine,

Griggling and laughing with all their might

At the piteous hap of the Fairy wight.

The poem “To a Friend” consists of fourteen Spenserian stanzas. They are fine spirited verses, and probably were not supposed by their author to be more. Stanza the fourth, although beginning nobly, concludes with that very common exemplification of the bathos, the illustrating natural objects of beauty or grandeur by references to the tinsel of artificiality.

Oh! for a seat on Appalachia’s brow,

That I might scan the glorious prospects round,

Wild waving woods, and rolling floods below,

Smooth level glades and fields with grain embrowned,

High heaving hills, with tufted forests crowned,

Rearing their tall tops to the heaven’s blue dome,

And emerald isles, like banners green un-wound,

Floating along the take, while round them roam

Bright helms of billowy blue, and plumes of dancing foam.

In the Extracts from Leon are passages not often surpassed in vigor of passionate thought and expression — and which induce us to believe not only that their author would have succeeded better in prose romance than in poetry, but that his attention would have naturally fallen into the former direction, had the Destroyer only spared him a little longer.

This poem contains also lines of far greater poetic power than any to be found in the Culprit Fay. For example —

The stars have lit in heaven their lamps of gold,

The vewless dew falls lightly on the world;

The gentle air that softly sweeps the leaves

A strain of faint unearthly music weaves:

As when the harp of heaven remotely plays,

Or sygnets wail — or song of sorrowing fays

That float amid the moonshine glimmerings pale,

On wings of woven air in some enchanted vale.*

Niagara is objectionable in many respects, and in none more so than in its frequent inversions of language, and the artificial character of its versification. The invocation,

Roar, raging torrent! and thou, mighty river,

Pour thy white foam on the valley below!

Frown ye dark mountains, &c.

is ludicrous — and nothing more. In general, all such invocations have an air of the burlesque. In the present instance we may fancy the majestic Niagara replying, “Most assuredly I will roar, whether, worm! thou tellest me or not.”

The American Flag commences with a collection of those bald conceits, which we have already shown to have no dependence whatever upon the Poetic Power — springing altogether from Comparison.

When Freedom from her mountain height

Unfurled her standard to the air,

She tore the azure robe of night

And set the stars of glory there.

She mingled with its gorgeous dyes

The milky baldric of the skies,

And striped its pure celestrial white

With streakings of the morning light;

Then from his mansion in the sun

She called her eagle bearer down

And gave into his mighty hand

The symbol of her chosen land.

Let us reduce all this to plain English, and we have — what? Why, a flag, consisting of the “azure robe of night,” “set with stars of glory,” interspersed with “streaks of morning light,” relieved with a few pieces of “milky way,” and the whole carried by an “eagle bearer,” that is to say, an eagle ensign, who bears aloft this “symbol of our chosen land” in his “mighty hand,” by which we are to understand his claw. In the second stanza, “the thunder-drum of Heaven” is bathetic and grotesque in the highest degree — a commingling of the most sublime music of Heaven with the most utterly contemptible and common-place of Earth. The two concluding verses are in a better spirit, and might almost be supposed to be from a different hand. The images contained in the lines

When Death careering on the gale

Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,

And frighted waves rush wildly back,

Before the broadsides reeling rack,

are of the highest order of Ideality. The deficiencies of the whole poem may be best estimated by reading it in connection with “Scots wha hae,” with the “Mariners of England,” or with “Hohenlinden.” It is indebted for its high and most undeserved reputation to our patriotism — not to our judgment.

The remaining poems in Mr. Dearborn’s edition of Drake, are three Songs; Lines in an Album; Lines to a Lady; Lines on leaving New Rochelle; Hope; A Fragment; To ——; To Eva; To a Lady; To Sarah; and Bronx. These are all poems of little compass, and with the exception of Bronx and a portion of the Fragment, they have no character distinctive from the mass of our current poetical literature. Bronx, however, is in our opinion, not only the best of the writings of Drake, but altogether a lofty and beautiful poem, upon which his admirers would do better to found a hope of the writer’s ultimate reputation than upon the niaiseries of the Culprit Fay. In the Fragment is to be found the finest individual passage in the volume before us, and we quote it as a proper finale to our review.

Yes! thou art lovelier now than ever,

How sweet’t would be when all the air

In moonlight swims along thy river

To couch upon the grass, and hear

Niagra’s everlasting voice

Far in the deep blue west away,

That dreamy and poetic noise

We mark not in the glare of day,

Oh! how unlike its torrent-cry,

When o’er the brink the tide is driven,

As if the vast and sheeted sky

In thunder fell from Heaven.

——

Halleck’s poetical powers appear to us essentially inferior, upon the whole, to those of his friend Drake. He has written nothing at all comparable to Bronx. By the hackneyed phrase, sportive elegance, we might possibly designate at once the general character of his writings and the very loftiest praise to which he is justly entitled.

Alnwick Castle is an irregular poem of one hundred and twenty-eight lines — was written, as we are informed, in October 1822 — and is descriptive of a seat of the Duke of Northumberland, in Northumberlandshire, England. The effect of the first stanza is materially impaired by a defect in its grammatical arrangement. The fine lines,

Home of the Percy’s high-born race,

Home of their beautiful and brave,

Alike their birth and burial place,

Their cradle and their grave!

are of the nature of an invocation, and thus require a continuation of the address to the “Home, &c.” We are consequently disappointed when the stanza proceeds with —

Still sternly o’er the castle gate

Their house’s Lion stands in state

As in his proud departed hours;

And warriors frown in stone on high,

And feudal banners “flout the sky”

Above his princely towers.

The objects of allusion here vary, in an awkward manner, from the castle to the lion, and from the Lion to the towers. By writing the verses thus the difficulty would be remedied.

Still sternly o’er the castle gate

Thy house’s Lion stands in state,

As in his proud departed hours;

And warriors frown in stone on high,

And feudal banners “flout the sky”

Above thy princely towers.

The second stanza, without evincing in any measure the loftier powers of a poet, has that quiet air of grace, both in thought and expression, which seems to be the prevailing feature of the Muse of Halleck.

A gentle hill its side inclines,

Lovely in England’s fadeless green,

To meet the quiet stream which winds

Through this romantic scene

As silently and sweetly still,

As when, at evening, on that hill,

While summer’s wind blew soft and low,

Seated by gallant Hotspur’s side

His Katherine was a happy bride

A thousand years ago.

There are one or two brief passages in the poem evincing a degree of rich imagination not elsewhere perceptible throughout the book. For example —

Gaze on the Abbey’s ruined pile:

Does not the succoring Ivy keeping,

Her watch around it seem to smile

As o’er a lov’d one sleeping?

and,

One solitary turret gray

Still tells in melancholy glory

The legend of the Cheviot day.

The commencement of the fourth stanza is of the highest order of Poetry, and partakes, in a happy manner, of that quaintness of expression so effective an adjunct to Ideality, when employed by the Shelleys, the Coleridges and the Tennysons, but so frequently debased, and rendered ridiculous, by the herd of brainless imitators.

Wild roses by the abbey towers

Are gay in their young bud and bloom:

They were born of a race of funeral flowers,

That garlanded in long-gone hours,

A Templar’s knightly tomb.

The tone employed in the concluding portions of Alnwick Castle, is, we sincerely think, reprehensible, and unworthy of Halleck. No true poet can unite in any manner the low burlesque with the ideal, and not be conscious of incongruity and of a profanation. Such verses as

Men in the coal and cattle line

From Tevoit’s bard and hero land,

From royal Berwick’s beach of sand,

From Wooler, Morpeth, Hexham, and Newcastle upon Tyne.

may lay claim to oddity — but no more. These things are the defects and not the beauties of Don Juan. They are totally out of keeping with the graceful and delicate manner of the initial portions of Alnwick Castle, and serve no better purpose than to deprive the entire poem of all unity of effect. If a poet must be farcical, let him be just that, and nothing else. To be drolly sentimental is bad enough, as we have just seen in certain passages of the Culprit Fay, but to be sentimentally droll is a thing intolerable to men, and Gods, and columns.

Marco Bozzaris appears to have much lyrical without any high order of ideal beauty. Force is its prevailing character- a force, however, consisting more in a well ordered and sonorous arrangement of this metre, and a judicious disposal of what may be called the circumstances of the poem, than in the true material of lyric vigor. We are introduced, first, to the Turk who dreams, at midnight, in his guarded tent,

of the hour

When Greece her knee in suppliance bent,

Should tremble at his power —

He is represented as revelling in the visions of ambition.

In dreams through camp and court he bore

The trophies of a conqueror;

In dreams his song of triumph heard;

Then wore his monarch’s signet ring;

Then pressed that monarch’s throne — a king;

As wild his thoughts and gay of wing

As Eden’s garden bird.

In direct contrast to this we have Bozzaris watchful in the forest, and ranging his band of Suliotes on the ground, and amid the memories of Plataea. An hour elapses, and the Turk awakes from his visions of false glory — to die. But Bozzaris dies — to awake. He dies in the flush of victory to awake, in death, to an ultimate certainty of Freedom. Then follows an invocation to death. His terrors under ordinary circumstances are contrasted with the glories of the dissolution of Bozzaris, in which the approach of the Destroyer is

welcome as the cry

That told the Indian isles were nigh

To the world-seeking Genoese,

When the land-wind from woods of palm,

And orange groves and fields of balm,

Blew o’er the Haytian seas.

The poem closes with the poetical apotheosis of Marco Bozzaris as

One of the few, the immortal names

That are not born to die.

It will be seen that these arrangements of the subject are skillfully contrived — perhaps they are a little too evident, and we are enabled too readily by the perusal of one passage, to anticipate the succeeding. The rhythm is highly artificial. The stanzas are well adapted for vigorous expression — the fifth will afford a just specimen of the versification of the whole poem.

Come to the bridal Chamber, Death!

Come to the mother’s when she feels

For the first time her first born’s breath;

Come when the blessed seals

That close the pestilence are broke,

And crowded cities wail its stroke,

Come in consumption’s ghastly form,

The earthquake shock, the ocean storm;

Come when the heart beats high and warm,

With banquet song and dance, and wine;

And thou art terrible — the tear,

The groan, the knell, the pall, the bier,

And all we know, or dream, or fear

Of agony, are thine.

Granting, however, to Marco Bozzaris, the minor excellences we have pointed out we should be doing our conscience great wrong in calling it, upon the whole, any more than a very ordinary matter. It is surpassed, even as a lyric, by a multitude of foreign and by many American compositions of a similar character. To Ideality it has few pretensions, and the finest portion of the poem is probably to be found in the verses we have quoted elsewhere —

Thy grasp is welcome as the hand

Of brother in a foreign land,

Thy summons welcome as the cry

That told the Indian isles were nigh

To the world-seeking Genoese,

When the land-wind from woods of palm

And orange groves, and fields of balm

Blew o’er the Haytian seas.

The verses entitled Burns consist of thirty-eight quatrains — the three first lines of each quatrain being of four feet, the fourth of three. This poem has many of the traits of Alnwick Castle, and bears also a strong resemblance to some of the writings of Wordsworth. Its chief merits, and indeed the chief merit, so we think, of all the poems of Halleck is the merit of expression. In the brief extracts from Burns which follow, our readers will recognize the peculiar character of which we speak.

Wild Rose of Alloway! my thanks:

Thou mind’st me of that autumn noon

When first we met upon “the banks

And braes o’bonny Doon”

Like thine, beneath the thorn-tree’s bough,

My sunny hour was glad and brief —

We’ve crossed the winter sea, and thou

Art withered — flower and leaf,

There have been loftier themes than his,

And longer scrolls and louder lyres

And lays lit up with Poesy’s

Purer and holier fires.

And when he breathes his master-lay

Of Alloways witch-haunted wall

All passions in our frames of clay

Come thronging at his call.

Such graves as his are pilgrim-shrines,

Shrines to no code or creed confined —

The Delphian vales, the Palastines,

The Meccas of the mind.

They linger by the Doon’s low trees,

And pastoral Nith, and wooded Ayr,

And round thy Sepulchres, Dumfries!

The Poet’s tomb is there.

Wyoming is composed of nine Spenserian stanzas. With some unusual excellences, it has some of the worst faults of Halleck. The lines which follow are of great beauty.

I then but dreamed: thou art before me now,

In life — a vision of the brain no more,

I’ve stood upon the wooded mountain’s brow,

That beetles high thy love! valley o’er;

And now, where winds thy river’s greenest shore,

Within a bower of sycamores am laid;

And winds as soft and sweet as ever bore

The fragrance of wild flowers through sun and shade

Are singing in the trees, whose low boughs press my head.

The poem, however, is disfigured with the mere burlesque of some portions of Alnwick Castle — with such things as

he would look particularly droll

In his Iberian boot and Spanish plume;

and

A girl of sweet sixteen

Love-darting eyes and tresses like the morn

Without a shoe or stocking — hoeing corn,

mingled up in a pitiable manner with images of real beauty.

The Field of the Grounded Arms contains twenty-four quatrains, without rhyme, and, we think, of a disagreeable versification. In this poem are to be observed some of the finest passages of Halleck. For example —

Strangers! your eyes are on that valley fixed

Intently, as we gaze on vacancy,

When the mind’s wings o’erspread

The spirit world of dreams.

and again —

O’er sleepless seas of grass whose waves are flowers.

Red-Jacket has much power of expression with little evidence of poetical ability. Its humor is very fine, and does not interfere, in any great degree, with the general tone of the poem.

A Sketch should have been omitted from the edition as altogether unworthy of its author.

The remaining pieces in the volume are Twilight, Psalm cxxxvii; To * * * *; Love; Domestic Happiness; Magdalen; From the Italian; Woman; Connecticut; Music; On the Death of Lieut. William Howard Allen; A Poet’s Daughter; and On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake. Of the majority of these we deem it unnecessary to say more than that they partake, in a more or less degree, of the general character observable in the poems of Halleck. The Poet’s Daughter appears to us a particularly happy specimen of that general character, and we doubt whether it be not the favorite of its author. We are glad to see the vulgarity of

I’m busy in the cotton trade

And sugar line,

omitted in the present edition. The eleventh stanza is certainly not English as it stands — and besides it is altogether unintelligible. What is the meaning of this?

But her who asks, though first among

The good, the beautiful, the young

The birthright of a spell more strong

Than these have brought her.

The Lines on the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake, we prefer to any of the writings of Halleck. It has that rare merit in composition of this kind — the union of tender sentiment and simplicity. This poem consists merely of six quatrains, and we quote them in full.

Green be the turf above thee,

Friend of my better days!

None knew thee but to love thee,

Nor named thee but to praise.

 

Tears fell when thou wert dying

From eyes unused to weep,

And long, where thou art lying,

Will tears the cold turf steep.

 

When hearts whose truth was proven,

Like thine are laid in earth,

There should a wreath be woven

To tell the world their worth.

 

And I, who woke each morrow

To clasp thy hand in mine,

Who shared thy joy and sorrow,

Whose weal and woe were thine —

 

It should be mine to braid it

Around thy faded brow,

But I’ve in vain essayed it,

And feel I cannot now.

 

While memory bids me weep thee,

Nor thoughts nor words are free,

The grief is fixed too deeply,

That mourns a man like thee.

If we are to judge from the subject of these verses, they are a work of some care and reflection. Yet they abound in faults. In the line,

Tears fell when thou wert dying;

wert is not English.

Will tears the cold turf steep,

is an exceedingly rough verse. The metonymy involved in

There should a wreath be woven

To tell the world their worth,

is unjust. The quatrain beginning,

And I who woke each morrow,

is ungrammatical in its construction when viewed in connection with the quatrain which immediately follows. “Weep thee” and “deeply” are inaccurate rhymes — and the whole of the first quatrain,

Green be the turf, &c.

although beautiful, bears too close a resemblance to the still more beautiful lines of William Wordsworth,

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love.

As a versifier Halleck is by no means equal to his friend, all of whose poems evince an ear finely attuned to the delicacies of melody. We seldom meet with more inharmonious lines than those, generally, of the author of Alnwick Castle. At every step such verses occur as,

And the monk’s hymn and minstrel’s song —

True as the steel of their tried blades —

For him the joy of her young years —

Where the Bard-peasant first drew breath —

And withered my life’s leaf like thine —

in which the proper course of the rhythm would demand an accent upon syllables too unimportant to sustain it. Not infrequently, too, we meet with lines such as this,

Like torn branch from death’s leafless tree,

in which the multiplicity of consonants renders the pronunciation of the words at all, a matter of no inconsiderable difficulty.

But we must bring our notice to a close. It will be seen that while we are willing to admire in many respects the poems before us, we feel obliged to dissent materially from that public opinion (perhaps not fairly ascertained) which would assign them a very brilliant rank in the empire of Poesy. That we have among us poets of the loftiest order we believe — but we do not believe that these poets are Drake and Halleck.

4

BRUNNENS OF NASSAU. Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau. By an Old Man. .New York: Harper and Brothers.

This “old man” is the present Governor of Canada, and a very amusing “old man” is he. A review of his work, which appeared a year ago in the North American, first incited us to read it, a pleasure which necessity has compelled us to forego until the present time — there not having been an American edition put to press until now, and the splendid hot-pressed, calf-bound, gilt edged edition from Albemarle-street being too costly for very general circulation here.

The “bubbles” are blown into being by a gentle man who represents himself as having been sentenced, in the cold evening of his life, to drink the mineral waters of Nassau; and who, upon arriving at the springs, found that, in order to effect the cure designed by his physicians, the mind was to be relaxed as the body was being strengthened. The result of this regimen was the production of “The Bubbles,” or hasty sketches of whatever chanced for the moment to please either the eyes or the mind of the patient. He anticipates the critic’s verdict as to his book — that it is empty, light, vain, hollow and superficial: “but then,” says he, “it is the nature of ’bubbles’ to be so.”

He describes his voyage from the Custom House Stairs in the Thames, by steamboat to Rotterdam, and thence his journey to the Nassau springs of Langen-Schwalbach, Schlangen-bad, Nieder-selters, and Wiesbaden. Here he spends a season, bathing and drinking the waters of those celebrated springs, and describing such incidents as occurred to relieve the monotony of his somewhat idle life, in a most agreeable and taking way. To call this work facetious, as that term is commonly used, were not perhaps to give so accurate an idea of its style as might be conveyed by the adjective whimsical. Without subjecting the “old man” to the imputation of copyism, one may describe the manner as being an agreeable mixture of Charles Lamb’s and Washington Irving’s. The same covert conceit, the same hidden humor, the same piquant allusion, which, while you read, place the author bodily before you, a quiet old gentleman fond of his ease, but fonder of his joke — not a broad, forced, loud, vacant-minded joke, but a quiet, pungent, sly, laughter-moving conceit, which, at first stirring the finest membranes of your pericardium, at length sets you out into a broad roar of laughter, honest fellow as you are, and which you must be, indeed, a very savage, if you can avoid.

Our bubble-blower observes everything within the sphere of his vision, and even makes a most amusing chapter out of “The schwein-general,” or pig-drover of Schlanrgen-bad, which we wish we had space for enl tire. As it is, we give some reflections upon” the pig,” as being perfectly characteristic of the author’s peculiar style.

There exists perhaps in creation no animal which has less justice and more injustice done to him by man than the pig. Gifted with every faculty of supplying himself, and of providing even against the approaching storm, which no creature is better capable of foretelling than a pig, we begin by putting an iron ring through the cartilage of his nose, and having thus barbarously deprived him of the power of searching for, and analyzing his food, we generally condemn him for the rest of his life to solitary confinement in a sty.

While his faculties are still his own, only observe how, with a bark or snort, he starts if you approach him, and mark what shrewd intelligence there is in his bright, twinkling little eye; but with pigs, as with mankind, idleness is the root of all evil. The poor animal, finding that he has absolutely nothing to do — having no enjoyment — nothing to look forward to but the pail which feeds him, naturally most eagerly, or as we accuse him, most greedily, greets its arrival. Having no natural business or diversion — nothing to occupy his brain — the whole powers of his system are directed to the digestion of a superabundance of food. To encourage this, nature assists him with sleep, which lulling his better faculties, leads his stomach to become the ruling power of his system-a tyrant that can bear no one’s presence but his own. The poor pig, thus treated, gorges him self — sleeps — eats again — sleeps — wakens in a fight screams — struggles against the blue apron-screams fainter and fainter-turns up the whites of his little eyes — and — dies!

It is probably from abhorring this picture, that I know of nothing which is more distressing to me than to wit ness an indolent man eating his own home-fed pork.

There is something so horribly similar between the life of the human being and that of his victim-their notions on all subjects are so unnaturally contracted — there is such a melancholy resemblance between the strutting residence in the village, and the stalking confinement in the sty — between the sound of the dinner bell and the rattling of the pail — between snoring in an armchair and grunting in clean straw — that, when I contrast the “pig’s countenance” in the dish with that of his lord and master, who, with outstretched elbows, sits leaning over it, I own I always feel it is so hard the one should have killed the other. — In short there is a sort of “Tu quoque, BRUTE!” moral in the picture, which to my mind is most painfully distressing.

The author thus speaks in relation to the mineral water of Wiesbaden.

In describing the taste of the mineral water of Wiesbaden, were I to say, that while drinking it, one hears in one’s ears the cackling of hens, and that one sees feathers flying before one’s eyes, I should certainly grossly exaggerate; but when I declare that it exactly resembles very hot chicken-broth, I only say what Dr. Granville said, and what in fact everybody says, and must say, respecting it; and certainly I do wonder why the common people should be at the inconvenience of making bad soup, when they can get much better from nature’s great stock pot — the Koch-brunnen of Wiesbaden. At all periods of the year, summer or winter, the temperature of this broth remains the same, and when one reflects that it has been bubbling out of the ground, and boiling over in the same state, certainly flom the time of the Romans, and probably from the time of the flood, it is really astonishing to think what a most wonderful apparatus there must exist below, what an inexhaustible stock of provisions to ensure such an everlasting supply of broth, always formed of exactly the same degree, and always served up at exactly the same heat.

One would think that some of the particles in the recipe would be exhausted; in short, to speak metaphorically, that the chickens would at last be boiled to rags, or that the fire would go out for want of coals; but the oftener one reflects on these sort of subjects, the oftener is the old-fashioned observation repeated, that let a man go where he will, Omnipotence is never from his view.

It is good they say for the stomach — good for the skin — good for ladies of all possible ages — for all sorts and conditions of men. For a headache, drink, the inn-keepers exclaim, at the Koch-brunnen. For gout in the heels, soak the body, the doctors say, in the chicken-broth! — in short, the valetudinarian, reclining in his carriage, has scarcely entered the town, say what he will of himself, the inhabitants all seem to agree in repeating — “Bene bene respondere, dignus est intrare nostro docto corpore!

There was something to my mind so very novel in bathing in broth, that I resolved to try the experiment, particularly as it was the only means I had of following the crowd. Accordingly, retiring to my room, in a minute or two I also, in my slippers and black dressing gown was to be seen, staff in hand, mournfully walking down the long passage, as slowly and as gravely as if I had been in such a profession all my life. An infirm elderly lady was just before me — some lighter-sounding footsteps were behind me — but without raising our eyes from the ground, we all moved on, just as if we had been corpses gliditng or migrating from one church yard to another.

The door was now closed, and my dressing-gown being carefully hung upon a peg, (a situation I much envied it,) I proceeded, considerably against my inclination, to introduce myself to my new acquaintance, whose face, or surface, was certainly very revolting; for a white, thick, dirty, greasy scum, exactly resembling what would be on broth, covered the top of the bath. But all this, they say is exactly as it should be; and indeed, German bathers at Wiesbaden actually insist on its appearance, as it proves, they argue, that the bath has not been used by any one else. In most places in ordering a warm bath, it is necessary to wait till the water be heated, but at Wiesbaden, the springs are so exceedingly hot, that the baths are obliged to be filled over night, in order to be cool enough in the morning; and the dirty scum I have mentioned is the required proof that the water has, during that time, been undisturbed.

Resolving not to be bullied by the ugly face of my antagonist, I entered my bath, and in a few seconds I lay horizontally, calmly soaking, like my neighbors.

Here is a characteristic crayoning:

As soon as breakfast was over, I generally enjoyed the luxury of idling about the town: and, in passing the shop of a blacksmith, who lived opposite to the Goldene Kette, the manner in which he tackled and shod a vicious horse amused me. On the outside wall of the house two rings were firmly fixed, to one of which the head of the patient was lashed close to the ground; the hind foot, to be shod, stretched out to the utmost extent of the leg, was then secured to the other ring about five feet high, by a cord which passed through a cloven hitch, fixed to the root of the poor creature’s tail.

The hind foot was consequently very much higher than the head; indeed, it was so exalted, and pulled so heavily at the tail, that the animal seemed to be quite anxious to keep his other feet on terra firma. With one hoof in the heavens, it did not suit him to kick; with his nose pointing to the infernal regions, he could not conveniently rear, and as the devil himself was apparently pulling at his tail, the horse at last gave up the point, and quietly submitted to be shod.

 


[[Footnotes]]

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* Under the head Androides in the Edinburgh Encyclopædia may be found a full account of the principal automata of ancient and modern times.

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

* The making the Turk pronounce the word echec, is an improvement by M. Maelzel. When in possession of Baron Kempelen, the figure indicated a check by rapping on the box with his right hand.

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* Sir David Brewster supposes that there is always a large space behind this drawer even when shut — in other words that the drawer is a “false drawer,” and does not extend to the back of the box. But the idea is altogether untenable. So common-place a trick would be immediately discovered — especially as the drawer is always opened to its fun extent, and an opportunity thus afforded of comparing its depth with that of the box.

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

* Some of these observations are intended merely to prove that the machine must be regulated by mind, and it may be thought a work of supererogation to advance farther arguments in support of what has been already fully decided. But our object is to convince, in especial, certain of our friends upon whom a train of suggestive reasoning will have more influence than the most positive a priori demonstration.

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* This charge of indiscriminant puffing will, of course, only apply to the general character of our criticism — there are some noble exceptions. We wish also especially to discriminate between those notices of new works which are intended merely to call public attention to them, and deliberate criticism on the works themselves.

* In addition to these things we observe, in the New York Mirror, what follows: “Those who have read the Notices of American books in a certain Southern Monthly, which is striving to gain notoriety by the loudness of its abuse, may find amusement in the sketch on another page, entitled “The Successful Novel.” The Southern Literary Messenger knows by experience what it is to write a successless novel.” We have, in this case, only to deny, flatly, the assertion of the Mirror. The Editor of the Messenger never in his life wrote or published, or attempted to publish, a novel either successful or successless.

* We separate the sublime and the mystical — for, despite of high authorities, we are firmly convinced that the latter may exist, in the most vivid degree, without giving rise to the sense of the former.

† The consciousness of this truth was by no mortal more fully than by Shelley, although he has only once especially alluded to it. In his Hymn to intellectual Beauty we find these lines.

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped

Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,

And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing

Hopes of high talk with the departed dead:

I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed:

I was not heard: I saw them not.

When musing deeply on the lot

Of life at that sweet time when birds are wooing

All vital things that wake to bring

News of buds and blossoming,

Sudden thy shadow fell on me —

I shrieked and clasped my hands in ecstasy!

I vow’d that I would dedicate my powers

To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?

With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now

I call the phantoms of a thousand hours

Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision’d bowers

Of studious zeal or love’s delight

Outwatch’d with me the envious night:

They know that never joy illum’d my brow,

Unlink’d with hope that thou wouldst free,

This world from its dark slavery,

That thou, O awful Loveliness,

Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.

‡ Imagination is, possibly in man, a lesser degree of the creative power in God. What the Deity imagines, is, but was not before. What man imagines, is, but was also. The mind of man cannot imagine what is not. This latter point may be demonstrated. — See Les Premiers Traits de L’Erudition Universelle, par M. Le Baron de Biefield, 1767.

* Chestnut color, or more slack,

Gold upon a ground of black.

Ben Jonson.

* A review of Drake’s poems, emanating from one of our proudest Universities, does not scruple to make use of the following language in relation to the Culprit Fay. “It is, to say the least, an elegant production, the purest specimen of Ideality we have ever met with, sustaining in each incident a most bewitching interest. Its very title is enough,” &c. &c. We quote these expressions as a fair specimen of the general unphilosophical and adulatory tenor of our criticism.

* As examples of entire poems of the purest ideality, we would cite the Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus, the Inferno of Dante, Cervantes’ Destruction of Numantia, the Comus of Milton, Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, the Auncient Mariner, the Christabel, and the Kubla Khan of Coleridge, and most especially the Sensitive Plant of Shelley, and the Nightingale of Keats. We have seen American poems evincing the faculty in the highest degree.

* Among things, which not only in our opinion, but in the opinion of far wiser and better men, are to be ranked with the mere prettinesses of the Muse, are the positive similes so abundant in the writing of antiquity, and so much insisted upon by the critics of the reign of Queen Anne.

* The expression “woven air,” much insisted upon by the friends of Drake, seems to be accredited to him as original. It is to be found in many English writers — and can be traced back to Apuleius, who calls fine drapery ventum textilem.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - BRP5S, 1997] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (April 1836 (Texts))