Text: Burton R. Pollin, “January 1837 (Notes),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 359-364 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 359:]

Notes [[for January 1837]]

[column 1:]

January 1837 - 1 Title: William Cullen Bryant. Poems. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836. SLM text: pp. 41-49. This was Poe’s last poetry review for the SLM and the first in which, as he acknowledges, he had for his subject an American poet whose merits had already been recognized “both at home and abroad.” For this reason he is uncharacteristically respectful, despite his meticulous cataloging of passages in which he finds metrical or other flaws. This is a serious review, based on principles; it is notable in the America of its period for its specificity and its avoidance of the typical impressionistic assessment of “beauties” in verse. An estimate of the justice of the review, however, will depend largely on the reader’s attitudes toward Poe’s emphasis on the overarching importance of the musical qualities of verse, views which are given in some detail here for the first time. For Poe’s later expansion of his poetics, see “The Rationale of Verse” (1848) and “The Poetic Principle” (1850), in which he stated his famous dictum that poetry is “the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty.” Bryant often violates Poe’s corollary stricture on “the heresy of The Didactic,” but here he does not receive Poe’s usual strong chastisement. A good overall analysis of this essay is in Jacobs, pp. 192-208. Poe again reviewed Bryant in Burton’s (May 1840) and Godey’s (April 1846). Poe identifies in the text those poems of Bryant from which he quotes. His other poetic illustrations are cited below.

In view of Poe’s going counter to the prevailing laudation in England and the U.S. of Bryant as one of our finest poets, Bryant’s responses at the time and over the course of his long life are in order. The Letters, collected and edited handsomely by W. C. Bryant II and T. G. Voss (Fordham UP, 1977-1992, 6 vols.), afford a good survey. There was a point of congenial contact in the fall of 1843 when Bryant was made president of the American Copyright Club, [column 2:] his inaugural address being soon printed; Poe was a prominent member (2: 247). Earlier (in 1837-38) the Poe family and Bryant had lived, almost next door to each other on Carmine Street, New York City. In 1850, Bryant sent Maria Clemm his Poems, inscribed, when she besought a copy with “June” and “Death of Flowers” to which her late “son” had given “special praise” (3: 116-117). Bryant refused to send memorial verses on Poe when asked by the Baltimore teachers in 1865 because of a lack of “some decided element of goodness in the character” of Poe (5: 8, 56), but he did offer an epitaph for the Poe “monument” in 1875 (it bore no inscription, at the end; 6: 198, 21719) and Bryant finally pleaded to be excused from attending the dedication (244).

a dissatisfaction] Poe seems to be saying that Bryant should distrust the “universal” American acclaim. See Pollin, Dictionary, p. 14, for three dozen loci of his comments or critiques, on Bryant, and Pollin 2: 501, 209, for a summary of his views of Bryant through his lifetime.

a 1 commences] Poe here displays two marked critical idiosyncrasies in his poetry criticism, worthy of note. One is the tendency to prefer liquid and sibilant letters to tongue-stopping plosives (p, b, d, t, th) which stop the flow in reading. His criticism will always show this bias. The other is his view that every word must pedantically be sounded as an independent unit, with no regard for reading elision. No reader would hesitate to merge “bitterest” with the following “tears” as Poe seems to require. He is therefore advocating the writing of poems according to a false standard of oral reading.

b the coming year] Poe here attempts to recreate the couplet with a favorite old-fashioned construction, as in the first line of “Annabel Lee,” “many and many a year ago” and in the Wordsworth “Guilt [page 360:] and Sorrow” excerpt that he quotes below (“many and many a song”). However, Poe is changing not only the wording but also the meaning, with the shift to the singular “year.”

c late critique] Park Benjamin reviewed Willis in the New York American Monthly, September 1836. Poe re-used this material in the 1843 Pioneer’s “Notes on English Verse,” which largely went into “The Rationale of Verse” in the 1848 SLM (Harrison 14: 233).

d insulated] In Poe’s day and well into the 19th century “isolate” and “insulate” were interchangeable, the former coming from the same Latin root through the Italian. This is not a misprint.

e The night wind . . . fell.] The first two lines are from Willis’s “The Dying Alchymist”: II. 1 and 12; the second two lines are from his “The Scholar of Thebet Ben Khorat”: II, 22; 1, 46.

f discords in music] Poe tries to develop his “prosodial art” rules from his confusion of stress and syllable length, disregarding the fact that English verse cannot be made to follow classical systems of short and long syllables; hence, his references to “metres, time, equalization, balancing, tones and discords” frequently, as here, fail to clarify. Yet his innate fine sense of rhythm, in his own practice, often overcomes his stated or set theory and even sometimes enables him to make valid criticisms and to compose great poetry.

g easy chair] We readily see from this paragraph how highly Poe rated the poetic standards and texts of Alexander Pope, but there is, strangely, no full scholarly treatment of the Poe-Pope connection. For a full survey, see the numerous loci in the Poe canon and the 17 commentary notes in Pollin, Dictionary, p. 74, and 2: Index, p. 570. These lines come from The Dunciad 1, 19-22.

h from Pope we have] To ascertain Poe’s broad search for examples for his argument, we note all the loci, in order, from The Dunciad: 1, 41-42, 189-90, 245-46, 271-72, 273-74; 2, 15-16, 233-34, 239-40. In view of the last three examples, the following sentence should read: “first books.”

i Luke’s . . . steel] Oliver Goldsmith, [column 2:] “The Traveller,” 1. 436.

* apreciates / appreciates

j Wordsworth] “Guilt and Sorrow,” 11. 244 ff. Poe’s interest in the “striking example from Wordsworth” whom he had not hitherto praised (see “Letter to B —— ,” SLM 2: 502 for his sweeping judgment: “. . . I have no faith in him.”) may have led to his use of the phrase, “Many and many a” in “The City in the Sea” and also in “Annabel Lee” (see Mabbott 1: 203 n. to 1. 21, and 469). The latter poem also shows other traces of Wordsworth’s quatrain: the two “loving” so long, indeed, from their earliest years, and compared to two primeval innocents (even though not human). Nelson F. Adkins, in “Chapter on American Cribbage: Poe and Plagiarism,” PBSA 42(1928): 169-210, reasonably wondered at Poe’s failure to note “Bryant’s obvious indebtedness to Wordsworth” here and in several other long reviews (see Poe’s frequent treatments of Bryant in Pollin, Dictionary, p. 14). See J. R. Lowell’s Fable for Critics: “Some scholar . . . / Calls B. the American Wordsworth” (11. 843-44) and “[With] the advantage that Wordsworth before him had written” (1. 861). See also Robert E. Spiller, et al., Literary History of the United States (NY: Macmillan, 1946), 1: 300: “Bryant was an American scion of the Lake School of poets.”

k Milton] Paradise Lost 12: 479-85.

k 1 unjust metonymy] Many rhetoricians would question Poe’s calling this anything save metaphor or personification (see Jacobs, p. 197, who justly arraigns the “inconsistent personification” in “a bay, masculine gender, being treated as the mother of islands” — as Poe should have indicated).

l aged limb] The word “chronic” meaning “lasting, lingering, inveterate, recurring” etc. was not confined solely to technical (medical in Poe’s eyes?) uses. The “fault” is groundless.

* pratling / prattling

m Edward Young, “Graveyard School” poet; author of The Complaint.

n objectionable] Poe does not clarify the reasons for railing at this passage. The line beginning with “The love” is totally disconnected from the antecedent clause. Presumably the once living people [page 361:] trod “a while” (as in Bryant’s text) “thy face, the love of thee and heaven.” This is surely puzzling, but not totally without meaning; yet Poe’s reference, through his italics for “they,” depends on his mistaken word “how” which requires explanation, since two of the four editions (rather printings, we should say) of 1836 carry the word “now” for Poe’s “how” and in a stereotyped printing there is no reason to think the fourth edition different from the preceding two, especially since later printings also bore “now” (1842 and 1850, for example). However Poe’s misreading came about, his criticism is certainly invalid.

n 1 these gray old rocks] Bryant apparently read Poe’s critique carefully, for he changed this line, not in the fifth edition of 1842 (p. 103), but in the sixth, of 1850 (p. 104) to “There is a tale about these reverend rocks.” Bryant likewise changed his text, cited by Poe in his review six paragraphs below, occurring for “The Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus,” “Kind influence. Lo! their orbs burn more bright” to “Kind influence. Lo! they brighten as we gaze” (1850: p. 185).

n 2 Comus today] The two instances of the word “affect” given by Poe seem to argue against his attaching the word “antique” to the root of our word “affectation,” a charge that he levels against Willis and others. We still use it for “imitate,” “simulate,” “give the appearance of,” etc.

o “the sound . . . sense”] Pope, “Essay on Criticism,” 1. 365.

p epigrammatism] Since this word seems to be unprinted before this instance, it qualifies as a Poe coinage, which he uses in four later works, sometimes a trifle pejoratively; see Pollin, Poe Studies 1989, 22: 40-42.

q Capel Lofft] Lofft, an English lawyer, published Laura; or, An Anthology of Sonnets, 1812-14.

r Bartolome . . . Iglesias] “A Santa Maria Magdalena” by Bartolome Leonardo de Argensola, was first published in Spain in 1634; “Alexis” is by Jose Iglesias de la Casa (1810).

r 1 the shadows of her hair] Since Poe has quoted the whole of Bryant’s poem, the reader knows full well that in the [column 2:] quatrain that is given below he is constructing a new work, with changes from “thy” to “her.” In faulting Poe for either error or slyness, Jacobs (pp. 201-02) ignores Poe’s printing of the whole poem and also saying “[I]t would have been a practical idea. . . .” One might here note, also, that Jacobs’ invoking Archibald Alison’s Essays as a basis for Poe’s views on Bryant, because of the latter’s adherence to Alison’s theory of unity is farfetched in view of the total lack of evidence that Poe knew any of Alison’s works. He very rarely owed anything significant to a source totally unmentioned in his entire oeuvre. Having convinced himself of the validity of reshaping this “Rural Maids” poem by Bryant, Poe presented the matter again in his May 1840 “notice of . . . Bryant” in Burton’s (see Harrison 10: 85-90, specifically, 89), again quoting the whole poem, following with a paragraph about her spirit as being identified with that of the natural environment. Then he cites his recomposed quatrain, with the three “thys” changed to “her” without explanation or entire justification; he ends the section with: “Bryant has more profoundly imagined the perfect identification.”

s Wilson] John Wilson, as “Christopher North,” wrote over half of Blackwood’s “Notes Ambrosianae,” attacked the Cockney school of poets, and was much more prominent for his prose, often derisive and fictional, than for his slight output of poetry (chiefly, The Isle of Palms). Poe showed lack of sophistication in this inclusion. For his general views of Wilson see Pollin 2: 512, 521-23, also, for 10 loci in Broadway Journal, Index, 4: 279.

t Minerva . . . Camenae] Minerva, Roman goddess, was patroness of arts and crafts. The Camenae, water nymphs who had the power of prophecy, were identified with the Greek Muses.

u ars celare artem] Familiar Latin tag, derived from Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book I.

v poëte] A Frenchman, of course, would write poète and corrects.

w Between Cowper and Young] For Poe’s views of the first see Pollin 2: 151, 366, and for Young, 2: 81. [page 362:]

January 1837 - 2 Title: [Beverley Tucker]. George Balcombe. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836. SLM text: pp. 49-58. This work of fiction, the first of Tucker’s Southern romances, was published anonymously, but its authorship was easily guessed by Poe, who knew both the man and his opinions. His second and better known work, The Partisan Leader, a curious prediction of a Southern rebellion, was published under a pseudonym; it was reviewed in this same SLM issue by Judge Abel P. Upshur. A third novel, Gertrude, appeared serially in the SLM between September 1844 and December 1845. The Missouri setting of much of George Balcombe was based by Tucker on his experiences in the region as a circuit judge; the major characters and plot he drew largely from popular romances. Typically, Poe devotes most of his notice to the story line and slights what gives the book its only lasting interest: Tucker’s quintessentially Southern disquisitions on such topics as slavery, states’ rights, and the lofty role of the Virginia gentleman. Despite his conclusion that the book is “the best American novel” and his praise of Tucker’s portraits of women, Poe is not entirely eulogistic. He indulges in his usual strictures on style, and he observes that Tucker has not created “original characters” — that is, personalities who, surpassing an author’s mere “observation and fidelity,” reflect “the loftier regions of the Ideal.” Poe returned to Tucker and George Balcombe in a later “Marginalia” item, in which he accused Northern critics of refusing to recognize it as “one of the noblest fictions written by an American” and assessed it as “almost as good as ‘Caleb Williams“’ (text and notes in Pollin 2: 346-47). Further comments are in the November 1841 installment of “Autography” in Graham’s. The last two sentences of the sixth paragraph from the end of the review were printed in the Griswold edition as “Marginalia” CCXXIV and the final two paragraphs as “Marginalia” CCXXV, both given with full notes in Pollin 2: 550-51.

a unde derivatur] “Whence is it derived” is given by Poe as though it is a standard [column 2:] legal term, but it seems to have no such status.

b in terrorem] as a warning or threat, in law usage.

* Colonel Boon / Colonel Boone (but spelled “Boon” in Irving’s Astoria).

c Caleb Williams] Poe’s “family resemblance” must refer chiefly to the stress laid upon “plotting” or what Poe calls “intrigue,” but in general tone, purpose, and class analysis there is no comparability. Poe repeated the equivalence of the two novels in the 1849 SLM “Marginalia” installment (q.v. in Pollin 2: 346-47). See December 1835 - 15 for his review of another Godwin work.

January 1837 - 3 Title: Washington Irving. Astoria. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Blanchard, 1836. SLM text: pp. 5968. Poe had favorably reviewed the third volume of Irving’s Crayon Miscellany (December 1835 - 14 ) and had solicited him for contributions to the SLM. In print he was generally respectful of Irving’s widespread reputation, and he was aware of the value of his good opinion for purposes of promotion. In private, though, he was critical. Writing on September 4, 1838, to Nathan C. Brooks, who had asked him to do a retrospective review of Irving’s writings, he declined — making the odd claim that he had read nothing of Irving’s since boyhood, “save ‘Granada.“’ He added: “Irving is much overrated, and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation — between what is due the pioneer solely, and what to the writer” (Letters 1: 111-12).

Irving undertook Astoria as a personal favor for his friend John Jacob Astor, but he prepared it diligently, with the aid of his nephew, Pierre M. Irving. Poe’s review was faithfully assembled. All but the last of its thirty-seven paragraphs are paraphrased closely from the text: the first fifteen are drawn from the Introduction and Chapters 1-7; the remainder synopsize highlights from the rest of the narrative. Poe’s reading of the book contributed some important details to the Narrative ofArthur Gordon Pym (see Pollin 1: 21 and the notes) and “The Journal of Julius [page 363:] Rodman” (Pollin 1: 514 and the notes, traceable via the index).

a forth its perogues] This variant form of “pirogue” was allowed in the 19th century and is used also in Astoria, chapter 2, Poe’s source text.

b merchandize] This (used passim) is given as a variant by the OED from the 16th century onward, but Astoria uses “merchandise.”

c Spokan] This is repeatedly spelled thus in Astoria (chapter 10).

d “To destroy . . . guilty”] Genesis 18.23.

January 1837 - 4 Title: J[eremiah] N. Reynolds. Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836. SLM text: pp. 68-72. For Poe’s three previous notices of Reynolds, see June 1835 - 3, December 1835 - 8, and August 1836 - 4. For an anticipation of his interest in a national scientific expedition, see the Maury review, June 1836 - 5. Several passages from the Address made their way into Pym; see Pollin 1: 18-19 and the notes, listed therein. The whole volume must also have provided a stimulus and specific details to Poe for his half-published “Journal of Julius Rodman” in Burton’s each month from January to June 1840. This claimed to be a manuscript recounting a journey of exploration for scientific and nationalistic advancement from Missouri to the Pacific northwest conducted by Rodman and his boat crew up the great rivers, before the identical journey of Lewis and Clarke (Pollin 1: 508-11). Reynolds includes supportive material: a letter from Benjamin Rodman, a Massachusetts state legislator (pp. 116-19) and Jefferson’s letter to Meriwether Lewis explaining the value to “commerce, science and patriotism” of the authorized expedition (76-83, also 282-83).

Poe summarizes from Reynolds’s Address and its accompanying documentation the author’s long period of lobbying for the voyage, which led, not long after he spoke, to the passage by Congress of a bill of authorization. The expedition was approved by President Jackson on May 14, [column 2:] 1836; a commander, Thomas ap Catesby Jones, was named; and the appointment of Reynolds as corresponding secretary was announced. Unhappily for Reynolds, this was the high point of his association with the project. Delay followed delay, and in December Mahlon Dickerson, Secretary of the Navy, made a long report to Congress on the failure of the expedition to get under way. Arguments over the plans continued throughout 1837 and early 1838; Reynolds and Dickerson aired their own differences in a series of public letters printed (and reprinted) in New York newspapers between July 1837 and January 1838 — a period when Poe himself was in New York. A desperate stage was reached when Jones resigned in November 1837, after the fleet had assembled in New York. In late January 1838 Dickerson was forced to relinquish control of the expedition, and Joel R. Poinsett, Secretary of War, was given full responsibility. This marked the end of Reynolds’s hopes. Though he still had the support of the Ohio delegation in Congress, his influence was now fading rapidly. In March 1838 Lieutenant Charles Wilkes was appointed to the command. Wilkes moved relatively swiftly, and notices of the anticipated sailing were abroad as Poe was completing Pym. Meanwhile, Reynolds was desperately trying to gain assignment to the expedition in any capacity; but apparently his belligerency of manner had alienated all those in a position to help him. On August 1, 1838 Reynolds was informed for a final time that he had been excluded. The muchbeset U. S. Exploring Expedition sailed at last from Virginia on August 18; the disappointed Reynolds was left behind. He would carry on his fight for personal recognition in one more book, The Pacific and Indian Oceans (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841). Poe clearly shared Reynolds’s bitterness over his thwarted ambitions. In his “Chapter of Autography” (Graham’s, December 1841), he commented: “Mr. Reynolds occupied at one time a distinguished position in the eye of the public, on account of his great and laudable exertions to get up the American South Polar Expedition, [page 364:] from a personal participation in which he was most shamefully excluded.” Later, in a review in Graham’s (September 1843) of A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States’ Exploring Expedition, he again paid tribute: “One thing is certain-when men, hereafter, shall come to speak of this Expedition, they will speak of it not as the American Expedition — nor even as the Poinsett Expedition, nor as the Dickerson Expedition, nor, alas! as the Wilkes Expedition — they will speak of it — if they speak at all — as ‘The Expedition of Mr. Reynolds.‘”

a biche le mer] This should be “bêche-de-mer.” This word for sea slug, trepang, or sea cucumber (from the French for “spade of the sea”) was varied or distorted in many ways by sailors, traders, and importers. Poe seems to be poorly varying the erroneous form of Reynolds (p. 38, “beche-le-mer”), thinking it to be based on a word for “animal.”

b seen him or conversed] This passage is the best evidence that Poe and Reynolds met face-to-face. It is a tribute to Reynolds’s integrity and powers of persuasion, but it offers no real explanation as to why Poe, for so many years, upheld Reynolds’s cause as his own.

January 1837 - 5 Title: Charles Anthon. Select Orations of Cicero. New York: [column 2:] Harper and Brothers, 1836. SLM text: p. 72. Poe’s continued praise of Professor Anthon was no doubt genuine (and deserved), but he had also been a friend to White and the SLM. As editor of the Harper classical library, he was also of potential aid to Poe’s future publishing hopes. Four months later, Poe, now also in New York, wrote to Anthon requesting aid on a Hebrew passage in connection with his review of J. L. Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, which appeared in the October 1837 New-York Review. For Poe’s use of the Anthon letter, see Pollin 1: 24-26 and the notes to Pym on pp. 360-62. In later years he gave Anthon an extensive notice in the November 1841 installment of “Autography” in Graham’s.

a erudition] See Poe’s considerable use of his “additions” in the “Paloestine” article, February 1836 - 1 above).

b the Sallust] See May 1836 - 3 for Poe’s use of this work.

c under examination] The work, called Brutus, or concerning Renowned Orators, is a history of Roman eloquence, with much material drawn from the Chronicle of Atticus and details of Cicero’s own training in oratory. What can Poe mean by “an imitation, in manner” by Anthon?

d hortus siccus] Latin, “dry garden”; figuratively, a recounting of dull facts.

 


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Notes:

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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) (January 1837 (Notes))