Text: Burton R. Pollin, “March 1836 (Headnote),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 135-136 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 135:]

March 1836

[column 1:]

The March issue appeared shortly after the twenty-sixth of the month (Poe Log, p. 196). It was unusually large. As an “Advertisement” (probably composed by Poe) printed on the covers explained:

The Number of the Messenger now issued, has been delayed beyond its usual time, through the Proprietor's desire of publishing Professor Dew's Address. To counterbalance this delay, 16 pages of extra matter are given. The April number (which will be speedily put to press) will contain, therefore, 16 pages less than usual. (Poe Log, p. 196).

A second notice, headed “Professor Dew's Address,” read:

☞ Will be issued simultaneously with the present Number of the Messenger, a pamphlet edition of Mr. Dew's Address, which the Publisher proposes to dispose of at 25 cents per copy, or 25 copies for $5.

Thomas R. Dew, a defender of slavery and a notable orator in the Southern mode, became president of the College of William and Mary in this year. His speech — resoundingly titled “On the Influence of the Federative Republican System of Government upon Literature and the Development of Character” — ran for almost twenty pages. It was accompanied by several other extended articles, reflective of White's eagerness to supply his readers with matter agreeable to their tastes: “The Classics” (over twelve pages), “Manual Labor Schools,” and “On the Poetry of Burns.”

But, for all the Messenger's earnestness, it was Poe's reviews that continued [column 2:] to dominate the attention of most critics. In a notice of the issue in the April 8 Philadelphia Gazette which foreshadows Poe's later quarrels with Northern editors, Willis Gaylord Clark wrote scathingly:

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 (Poe Log, p. 197).

Clark was joined by Theodore S. Fay, whose Norman Leslie Poe had savaged. In the April 9 New-York Mirror Fay ran this notice:

☞ 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, in another page, entitled “The Successful Novel.” The “Southern Literary Messenger” knows ☞ by experience ☞ what it is to write a successless novel. ☞

The item referred to is an imitation of Poe's “Lion-izing,” in which Poe is called “Bulldog” and the Messenger “Passenger” (Poe Log, p. 197; Moss, pp. 44-45). [page 136:]

Sounding what was becoming an increasingly familiar note, William Leete Stone, in the April 12 New York Commercial Advertiser, reprinted Clark's attack and then added his own:

[We] 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 judgment and impartiality; but by far the greatest 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, severely, 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 [column 2:] him, more than once, in blunders quite as gross as those on which it was his pleasure to descant (Poe Log, p. 198; Moss, 45-46).

Poe would respond to these criticisms in the opening remarks of his “Drake-Halleck” review in the April issue.

There is no doubt that Poe wrote all five of the critical notices which are printed and discussed below. In the “Supplement” to the April SLM which reprints a number of reviews in periodicals, the Baltimore Patriot is quoted thus on the March issue: “Then follow ‘Critical Notices.’ These are written by POE” (p. 342). By reprinting the item without correction Poe accepted the attribution. There are several other items which may be ascribed to him: “Epimanes,” the tale later titled “Four Beasts in One” (pp. 235-38; text and notes in Mabbott 2: 117-30); the poem “To Helen” (p. 238; text and notes in Mabbott 1: 163-71); the filler “Bai” (p. 220; text and notes in Pollin 2: 433); and the filler “Authors” (p. 259; text and notes in Pollin 2: 433).






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