This is a continuation of yesterday's entry, and of the entries for the past week or so, discussing Mathew Franklin Whittier's authorship of "The Raven," and Edgar Allan Poe's plagiarism of same.
Skeptics claim they want to see evidence; scholars want quotes and citations. What they really want is to be right--or, to be rich and famous. If they have to give up the former, they may attempt to trade it for the latter. If you try to steal this from me, you may get away with it. But if you don't, it's going to be embarrassing, because a nut-case who believes he is the reincarnation of the real author will take the prize from you--and get tremendous publicity for his work, thereby.
Mathew let Poe get away with it, for various reasons I have touched upon, previously. But, it's "no more Mr. Nice Guy" on that score.
We know that Poe, at age 18, published his first series of poems, "Tamerlane and Other Poems," in 1827 under the pseudonym "A Bostonian." Mathew Franklin Whittier, younger brother of poet John Greenleaf Whittier--and myself in the 19th century--had been submitting to the New-England Galaxy, a respected literary newspaper in Boston, as early as May of 1827. He moved to Boston in November, though he appears to have traveled to Washington and New York later in the year. He was writing under a variety of pseudonyms, and as a variety of characters, including "Joe Strickland" and family, with which series he launched his distinctive style of ostensibly ignorant letters to the editor. Mathew turned 15 on July 18, 1827.
In the February 29, 1828 edition, Mathew wrote the first of his letters to the editor, Joseph T. Buckingham, under the signature of "Trismegistus." I have already suggested the back-story of this signature--his future wife, Abby Poyen, four years his junior, had begun sharing with him her private, tutored education, in lieu of his attending Haverhill Academy in their home town, which opportunity had been denied him by his father. But she had been taught metaphysics and the occult by her mother, Sally Poyen, whom historians have praised as being "brilliant." Abby, herself, was demonstrably a child prodigy, based on her young poetry. Apparently, she was teaching him Hermeticism, and while he was skeptical for several years, and actually lampooned what she taught him along this line, still, the name "Trismegistus," which means "thrice-great," must have amused him. Thus, he adopted it as a signature for four pieces in the Galaxy. He then re-used it briefly in 1835 (apparently, he and Abby had had an argument about vegetarianism); after which it lay dormant (so far as I can tell) until Mathew resumed using it in the Boston "Carpet-Bag" in 1851. The "Carpet-Bag" was Boston's answer to Britain's "Punch." Mathew was a silent financial partner in, and very frequent contributor to, that paper.
Ironically, by the time Mathew took up this pseudonym in 1851, he had actually embraced the things that Abby had taught him. Perhaps he returned to it partly in restitution.
In the "Carpet-Bag," there were several spin-offs from "Trismegistus," two of which became very popular. Therefore, when Joseph T. Buckingham, the former editor of the "Galaxy," published his memoirs in 1852, he couldn't resist mentioning that the now-popular "Trismegistus" had first written for his own paper. But Mathew had sworn him, as well as the editor of the "Carpet-Bag," B.P. Shillaber, to secrecy. This was both a personal preference, and a practical necessity, because of the scathing social and political satire that Mathew embedded in these pieces. It was, in short, dangerous to risk exposure. But Mathew took it even further, to the extent of suppressing his own legacy; and one way he accomplished this, apparently, was to prevail upon his friends never to mention him even in their diaries or memoirs.
Buckingham comes the closest to breaking his promise, ostensibly because he wants to brag on the matter in such a way that posterity will recognize it. Note that he specifically states the writer is young, and has used multiple pseudonyms (a very rare practice). He has only modified Mathew's name just so much--he has retained the initials, as well as the first four letters of his last name, rendering him as "Moses Whitney." But he pronounces him dead--long dead, as of 1851, when "Trismegistus" has resurfaced in the "Carpet-Bag." If you take this literally, two different men used this same idiosyncratic signature, decades apart. But if that's the case, one would think Buckingham would have been obligated to point this out.
Here is what Buckingham says in his memoirs. Don't get restless--I'm setting the stage for presenting what may be Mathew Franklin Whittier's satirical response to Edgar Allan Poe's published compilation. The following appears in the back of Buckingham's book, on page 252 of a 256-page memoir:
While the Galaxy was thus conducted, the labors of the editors were lightened by the contributions of Moses Whitney, jun., a young gentleman engaged in mercantile pursuits. His pieces are signed "Trismegistus." He had written many brief paragraphs for the paper in years preceding, under various signatures, generally on light and transient topics, which had no other importance or claim to notice than that they afforded opportunities for the exhibition of the wit and humor for which their author was celebrated.
Neither of these young men, exept Mr. Holbrook, had enjoyed the benefit of what is called "a liberal education;" but they possessed talent, industry, and perseverance, which gave to their friends delightful promise of eminent usefulness and reputation. A collection of all their writings,--though it would contain much that is crude and unfinished, would yet be honorable to their memories. Yes! Their memories! for they are all gone,--Buckingham, Holkbrook, Whitney, Locke:--such was the order of their going.*
But Mathew's contributions were anything but trite, or crude. "Joe Strickland" and family, as characters, were certainly crude--but the series, as social satire, was hardly trite. And while it appeared ignorant, the rampant misspelling was meticulously crafted. As for having "no other importance or claim to notice," I don't know how Buckingham could be so blind, or so stupid. I think he was neither--I think he imagined he was protecting Mathew thereby, encouraging people to take the present-day "Trismegistus" as light entertainment only.
Now look at what B.P. Shillaber, editor of the "Carpet-Bag"--and as near as I can tell, a close personal friend of Mathew's--says about the "Trismegistus" spin-offs in his memoirs, published ten years after Mathew's death, in 1893. Sorry, it's a bit long, but I want to include all of the information.
One feature of the Carpet Bag fun, that led perhaps to the damage of the paper, was its political satire at the time when the Presidential contest was going on between Gen. Scott and Gen. Pierce, by which the partisans of both were offended. The Carpet Bag’s candidate was “Ensign Jehiel Stebbings” of “Spunkville,” ostensibly a hero of the “Aroostook war,” where he was wounded by falling over the tongue of a commissary wagon, I think, and was described as a patriot of a most extreme character. He was said to have so infused his spirit into the town of Spunkville, where he resided, that the people were even called to church on Sundays by firing a swivel in the belfry. The character originated with Mr. Benjamin Drew, who labored as zealously in its support—aided by a corps of able volunteers—as did those who were urging the claims of the contestants of the two great parties. The fiction took with the press of the country, and the name of “Ensign Stebbings” was nearly as often mentioned as Scott or Pierce. The fight was continued according to political campaign rules, from the nomination at Saugus, where, after several ballots accordant with custom in such cases, he carried the convention by one hundred and forty-three thousand votes, as were counted, though the convention was held in a ten by twelve schoolhouse.
The proceedings of the convention were reported by William S. Robinson of the Lowell American (“Warrington”), who contributed further to the “Stebbings” literature by putting into the Ensign’s mouth the saying, that he was “in favor of the Maine law, but ginst its enforcement.” But to Mr. Drew was due the merit of the plan of campaign, and its principal support. Those who caught the spirit of fun that was in it enjoyed it hugely; but the number was largest that did not, and the satire was discontinued before the Presidential issue, for prudential reasons, but without avail.
Another feature of the Carpet Bag was the erudite profundity of Dr. E. Goethe Digg, U.G. (Universal Genius), late of Cattawampas College, Iowa, whose ponderously solemn utterances were replete with fun, and whose decisions upon matters submitted to him were exhaustive exhibitions of presumed research, every sentence of which was laden with humor that made his contributions delicious. Mr. Drew was possessed of a versatility of talent that was constantly devoted to the expansion of the Carpet Bag.**
There is no question that Mathew Franklin Whittier was the author of all the "Trismegistus" spin-offs, not Benjamin Drew (with the possible exception of a couple of Trismegistus-signed poems, which are implausible for Mathew). I have examined this question in great depth, in my book, "Mathew Franklin Whittier in his own words." I even got into Drew's diary and unpublished autobiography. Drew was a mild-mannered career academic, and a "recovering" or reformed Calvinist, who had neither adopted, nor reacted against, Hermeticism. The only hint of "Trismegistus" in his diary is two of the poems that were thus-signed some years later in the "Carpet-Bag" (not the two I suspect of being imitations, but Mathew's own work). They are not so-signed in the diary, but he does claim them as his own productions. Mathew must have shared these with Drew, as he often did with aspiring writers. Drew would then have claimed them so his family would be impressed when he shared the diary with them (a common practice in the 19th century). Drew wasn't "Trismegistus," though conceivably he might have showed this misleading evidence to Shillaber in later years. Perhaps at that point, Shillaber concluded that Mathew had been lying to him about it, and believed Drew, instead. There is evidence that while Shillaber may have been a friend, he didn't take Mathew seriously. Meanwhile, the "Carpet-Bag" years are entirely missing from Drew's diary, and there is no mention of it in his unpublished autobiography. But Drew does not strike one as being particularly modest--he brags about his "Shandy" poems being published in the Boston "Post."
As for the possibility that it was Benjamin Drew, not Mathew Franklin Whittier, who was writing as "Trismegistus" for the "New-England Galaxy" (despite the editor's memoirs which identify "Moses Whitney"), I know of no indication that Drew was publishing this early, and both men were 15 years old at the time. However, there are several hints suggesting that Mathew was on his own at this age, including a brief allusion to it writing as "Quails" for the Boston "Weekly Museum":
Having lead [sic] a public life since we were fourteen years of age, we have accustomed ourself, from necessity, to judge of men, manners, and incidents at sight...
But then we would have to wrest "Quails" away from entertainer Ossian Dodge, as discussed in my recent entries. There is no indication that Dodge was on his own at age 14, either. But this is only one of several clues. For example, in the only "Quails" story ever printed in the "Carpet-Bag," the protagonist is a "lad of about fourteen years of age, with 'cross eyes' and a white head," who is working as an apprentice. But Mathew also wrote a doggerel about a cabinet-maker's shop for the "Galaxy" when he was 14, and had not yet moved to Boston. This one is signed with his go-to initials, "P.P." And remember that almost all of Mathew's fiction is based rather heavily on his own life. As mentioned in a recent entry, it is like taking a photograph into Photoshop, and applying filters to it. Mathew has made himself cross-eyed and given himself white hair. He has put himself in "Providence" instead of Haverhill; and in the doggerel, he writes to his friend in "Buxton." These are the "filters."
Note that in his memoirs, Shillaber infers that the "Stebbings" satires may have actually brought down the paper. He knew they weren't trite. You will very shortly see that they weren't trite even when the "Trismegistus" was first used, in 1828. In fact, they were as acidic as, say, Lee Camp is, today, for liberal and progressive causes. Mathew, raised Quaker, was anti-war--or, more specifically, he fought tooth and nail against the myth of the supposed glory of war, for its own sake. But he also lampooned stuffy academia. There's a deep, extensive back-story for all this, which I don't have room for, here. For example, the real reason the paper folded, is that Mathew was slowly pushed out, after being asked to tone it down, in late 1852. This happened after Samuel Pickard's brother, Charles, bought his way into the paper. Pickard and Shillaber were both conservative--but Shillaber had a "live and let live" policy, whereas Pickard was offended. When Mathew stopped contributing, his imitators, who had been attempting to dilute Mathew's influence, simply weren't as good, or as interesting, to the readers. The paper became sappy, and it lost subscriptions. Shillaber tried to rescue it by changing his policy so as to accept advertisements; in 1853, he announced he was going to a monthly, small-booklet format. I have only been able to find three editions of the booklet. The second was specifically designed for distribution at a convention. The very last "Pocket Carpet-Bag" was the holiday gift edition, featuring Abby's own Christmas story, which Mathew had previously gotten published in the Jan. 1, 1853 edition of the full paper--anonymously, of course.
Okay, are you ready? I can't prove that this first "Trismegistus" letter is a direct response to Edgar Allan Poe's 18-year-old first poetry compilation, "Tamerlane and Other Poems," published the previous year. But, how many such compilations were published in Boston that year? I would guess it was at least the instigating factor, the "final straw." Did the two young men ever figure out each other's identities? We may never know. If my hypnotic regression sessions are to be believed, they did meet at some point. In any case, this is what Mathew was writing in February of 1828, at age 15. Remember that he has had the same home-schooling as his famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, as well as whatever tutoring his brother, who was five years older, may have given him on the subject. He has also been receiving tutoring from his future wife, Abby Poyen, a poetic child prodigy. So this is not just any Tom, Dick or Harry.
Note there is no question that this author is young, because the editor has specifically said so, in his memoirs. I am absolutely certain this is Mathew, because in the next two letters to the editor, under this signature, he adopts his favorite technique of pretending to be the person he wants to lampoon--in this case, an Andrew Jackson supporter. Here is the first appearance of "Trismegistus," as he sarcastically rips apart compilations like "Tamerlane and Other Poems." (Now I have a whole bunch of HTLM coding to do--one wonders whether it's worth it, but perhaps for readers of the future...)
Ideas on Poetry.
Mr. Editor,—I am an insatiable reader of true poetry; that is to say, I read whatever is published at the present day, and think myself all the while very profitably occupied. It constitutes as large a proportion of our literary atmosphere, as oxygen does of common air. No man can live in modern times without breathing in modern poetry, and no man can breathe it in without feeling its effects. It is in this circumstance, without doubt, that we transcend our forefathers and all the world beside, that have lived from Homer's time down to the present era. As to the Augustan Age, a comparison cannot fairly be drawn between Ovid, Horace, Virgil on the one side, and our own illustrious poets on the other. We must wait till the latter have acquired their immortality like the former. We must make the comparison two thousand years hence. Even now, however, it may be safely said that we have forty poets where Greece and Rome had one. During the Augustan Age of England indeed, Milton, Dryden, and others of the old school, published some volumes of verse, which, to be candid, is quite tolerable, considering the barbarism of those times and their own lack of education. But that our poets can surpass them all, is logically proved by the fact, that they do surpass them. Instead of starting any thing new, as many did whose names are already mentioned, they take up their predecessor's writings and improve upon them, wiping the dust from old songs, sonnets, plays, and ballads not generally read, and brushing them over with new colors, till they appeaer like so many clowns in a gentleman's dress.
It follows from what has been said, that to understand and write good poetry requires less labor now than formerly. Milton spent the last and best portion of his own life time, besides the youngest and best portion of his daughter's life time, in composing Paradise Lost, which nevertheless, sold for only five pounds; whereas, in these days any body may be a poet, and any poet may collect a volume of his own effusions at the age of twenty,—fair allowance being made for large legible print, ample margins, and sufficient intervals between the beginning and end of each piece. Thus a book may be got up which shall contain as much bodily substance as Paradise Lost, and its matter, without doubt, will justify its additional paraphanalia. Poetry being thus easy and universal, in fact an accomplishment as necessary to every person of taste, as oratory was among the citizens of ancient Athens, it is evident that poetical fame must be very equally and fairly divided. In consistency with our republican principles it is distributed in exact proportion to merit; in other words, to industry. An author's writings are estimated, as a general rule, by avoirdupois weight. A., who has published scraps to the amount of an ounce, will be the sixteenth part in public estimation of what B. is who has written a pound. Besides the manifest equity of this system, it conveniently enables any man who has great expectations of himself to calculate the year and month when he shall become a second Blackmore, or a second Wordsworth, with as much precision, as a child can predict the time of sunrise by aid of an almanack.
This being so completely the millenium of poetry that it may be bought at any bookstore, of the finest quality, for little or nothing, it may be matter of surprize that the reading community should not become cloyed with a superabundance of this dainty literature. Our poets seem to be aware indeed, that the mind of desultory man—studious of change and pleased with novelty, must be indulged; for vanity is of all others, their most striking characteristic. It seems to be a chief study with them, to metamorphose their styles with the changes of fashion, to write on all imaginable subjects in all possible measures and without measure. Hence there are no Epics written in these days,—nothing protracted or voluminous. It would be a mere waste of time and genius, (for we have genius without question, or we should not write,) to write any thing longer than an ode or a sonnet. This ambition of inventing something new either in the matter or the manner of their verse, will be better understood by an instance. I know a young man of great expectations, who has just commenced his poetical career with a Dream in blank verse three columns long; so true to nature, that you might believe he had caught his fancies in the very act; so insinuating that I could never for the life of me, read so much as the first ten lines without snoring. The public will be glad to learn that his friends have induced him to prepare an octavo volume for the press, of which the following pieces, copied from his table of contents, will constitute a chief part.
Ode for Muster Day, written by request, and sung with great applause.
Stanzas, in heroic measure, on a Mammoth Calf seen at a Cattle Show.
Allegory, in six cantos. Immortality of the Soul.
Tragedy, in two acts. Bloody murder of six militia men.
Forty pages of Monologues, Epigrams, and Acrostics.
The rear is brought up by
An Elegy on the death of my great-grandmother, at the age of one hundred and three. In the measure of Hudibras.
It has been already observed, that poetry is no longer the mysterious and secluded goddess, which she was some centuries ago, imparting inspiration but once an age—to the single favorite, some Homer or Shakespeare, who monopolized her altar. The muses have grown more republican. Their favors are distributed more universally. On the whole, however some ferreting antiquarians may contend for the claims of ancient genius, one thing is clear—the dilemma cannot be escaped by any man, who will open his eyes on the infinity of modern poets, or the immensity, and eternity of their productions. Either we have more genius than our predecessors, or, what is the same to all intents and purposes, we have more of that generous, unsuspicious good opinion of ourselves, maliciously called vanity. In fine, as the art under discussion has become, from whatever cause, a part of education, for both sexes and every age—superceding certain old-fashioned accomplishments of less value, I have thought myself well employed in drawing up a system of rules for the benefit of new beginners, accompanying my abstract directions with such examples as were most readily at hand. For, notwithstanding the old adage, "poeta nascitur," or in other words, if I understand what Horace meant to have said, that we are all born poets, and have only to help ourselves to immortality, by publishing whatever is given us to say; yet genius itself sometimes profits by instruction, though it seems, in these latter days to succeed marvellously well without.
1. In the choice of subjects, every one must be guided in some measure by his own taste, remembering, with our great model of correct judgments, Wordsworth, that the more trifling a subject is, the more credit that writer deserves, who embellishes and elevates it. It is politic also to use such subjects as have already been well handled by classic poets, for their character is established, they will excite pleasant trains of association, and suggest comparisons which we who write so much better, ought not to be too modest to profit by. On this point it is the less necessary to enlarge, because many new ideas may be gathered from the corners of newspapers and magazines, of which it is well known, there is no very alarming scarcity at present.
2. The second requisite is to become familiar with poetical technicalities. There are certain words and phrases in this as in most other branches of study, of true stamp and approved weight, which will be a sure passport to favor, at least with those readers, who admire the school most popular now. Such are—pure, gentle, clustering, feathery, stealthy, sunny, silvery, stilly, and the rest of this fine family,with all their connections among the verbs, nouns, and adverbs. These may be reserved by the poet when he begins business—as stock on hand, to be thrown in at every blank place, and especially at the beginning and end of paragraphs, as counters to tell by. Like the good old story of "Grouse in the gunroom," (which a servant in the play swears, he could not hear his master tell without laughing, because he had laughed at it for twenty years before) these words apply equally to all occasions, and suffer the less by repetition, from being repeated so much. The following sentences will show that the practice obtains even among such as are able to write with elegant simplicity and exquisite pathos. What is human happiness?
"'Tis to go abroad rejoicing in the joy
Of beautiful and well-created things;—
—To see a beauty in the stirring leaf—
It is to linger on the magic face
Of human beauty;
—'Tis to love
The candences of voices that are tuned
By majesty and purity of thought;
To gaze on woman's beauty as a star
Whose purity and distance make it fair,
And in the gush of music to be still,
And feel that it has purified the heart."
3. After all this preparation, novices may possibly imagine that ideas are a sort of "sine qua non." This is by no means the fact, at least to any considerable degree. According to modern improvements a single idea, like a grain of gold, may be hammered out to cover a page, if it be but moderately ductile; and duplicates, moreover, may be kept of the same, for insertion two or three times more in the course of a decent volume. Suppose a story to be required; a heroine must be brought up as the first item, and apparalled more or less as the story is to be longer or shorter. Then describe her from head to foot—every limb and feature, with as much minuteness as a merchant draws up an inventory of his goods. Give her eyes, like other heroines, "dark, beautiful eyes," not forgetting the "lashes" thereunto belonging—for the obvious reason that the two articles are most commonly found together; then, hair, shoulders, hands, bosom, brow, lips, neck, cheek, breath. If there be still a deficit, repeat the series, with variations and accompaniments "wisely ranged for show." Reserving this "unearthly beauty" in your green-room, let a hero step upon the stage, with another "dark, lofty eye and terrible brow"—(this brow, by the way, is a very poetical word, and may as well be used four or five times in the course of fifty lines.) Now open your green-room door—for the heroine
"With a bounding footstep, and a brow
Like light, to meet him. O! how beautiful,
Her dark eye flashing like a sunlit gem,
And her luxuriant hair"——
arms, neck, eye, brow, veins, hands, arms &c., ad infinitum. A Hindoo must have "dark features," and because every one knows that the eye is not a feature, she must have, in the next line, "the Eastern eye with its dark fringe." Go on describing by the formula in case first, until at a given signal,
"Her beautiful young boy—
—With his dark hair upon the summer wind
And the sweet laugh of a delighted child
Like music on his lips"—'comes leaping by
And flinging a light wreath upon her brow."
Allow a paragraph for "the beautiful sun" to rise and the pure intensity of noon to steal on, "Like the soft deepening of a northern eye."
By this time
"Her eyes are dim,
But her fine forehead and her calm, still lips
Are fearfully subdued."
Meanwhile, the boy's "silken hair," or "his hair in its light, breezy floatings," must act its part; mention—that he is
Too purely beautifully young to die,"
and then his mother may leave him to perish among the reeds of a river bank, receding of course, "till his dark eye is scarcely visible." Or it may answer the same purpose to remark that his "face was pale but very beautiful,"—if this has been said upon divers occasions, say it again for consistency's sake; if not, you had better say a good thing late than never.
4. The manner of closing a story may be deduced from the preceding examples. There is no law against killing heroes and heroines—they are the author's private property, and this is at once the easiest and the most affecting way of getting them off your hands; therefore, kill them outright, by flood or flame, as the case may be, leaving enough only to hold a sort of coroner's inquest, and pronounce an elegy of a page or two on the spot.
5. As some may sagaciously surmise, that a system of rules like mine, will induce a tendency to repetitions, let me remind them of an old truism, the more of a good thing the better; repetition, says Locke, is the foundation of memory; the oftener an idea be used, the greater impression it will make. But if writers are scrupulous of offending the laws of style in these nice particulars, it is incredible how many changes may be rung on a few thoughts by making some slight alteration in the expression. Suppose for instance, it is thought indispensible to particularize the hair in all personal descriptions. An old man must wear "white locks"—and his son will be "fair-haired." When the series come round again, say in twenty lines, the first must be "white thin hairs," and the second "silken hair"—then, sunny hair, silken curls, clustering curls, clustering hair, dark tresses, dark locks,—phrases not identically the same nor yet contradictory to each other. The following passages exemplify in some measure the same poetical ingenuity, and the use also of minute anatomical descriptions.
"Her lips were pressed,
Till the blood left them; and the wandering veins
Of her transparent forehead, were swelled out,
As if her pride would burst them. Her dark eye," &c.
And now the patriarch—
Is low upon his breast and his high brow,
—Beneath the swollen vein of agony
His lip is quivering."
Of another it is said,
Upon his forehead were distinctly seen,
And his proud lip was painfully compressed."
Again, when the daughter unclasped his helm,
She "laid her white hand gently on his brow,
And the large veins felt stiff and hard like cords."
6. The use of ad verbs is of sufficient importance to require a particular injunction. It is scarcely credible how much the size of a book depends upon this part of speech. We have enough of them in the English language, at least they may be easily manufactured from adjectives whenever occasion requries—witness, laughingly, bewilderingly. Let them therefore be plentifully used. Besides they serve to make style full and stout, and are admirably convenient to be patched upon poetry, wherever a vacancy occurs in words or in thought. How much is lost in quality as well as in quantity, by leaving three or four ideas almost in native nakedness, to be handcuffed together by a thread-bare verb and a few beggarly nouns, instead of loading them down with as many bulbous, voluminous, pollysyllabled qualifications as they can stagger under! If your ideas are at all suspicious in their character, they had better remain incog.: therefore surround them and mask them with the aforesaid part of speech, for this case made and provided: if they are scanty and rawboned, it is fair they should carry weight by way of compensation. Thus style may be crowded into uniform density and bulk. What different sentences would be made of the following, by stripping off the adverbs! how much would either be lost or gained?
His hands convusively, as if in prayer;
—He rose up calmly and composed the pall
About him decently, and left him there
As if," &c.
"The veins upon his forehead were distinctly seen,
And his proud lip was painfully compressed.
He trod less firmly; and his restless eye
Glanced forward frequently, as if," &c.
Looked perfectly and deeply blue between,
Like a fixed element, and birds went up
And sung invisibly, the heavenly air
Wooed them above the earth so temptingly."
7. After all that has been said and done, "finis opus coronat;" that is, "all's well that ends well." Whatever be the merit or demerit of the volume you have written, whatever be the subject, length, or style,—let it be followed up by as many notes as you can muster. They will give it an air of respectability and importance; they will show that you can write prose as well as poetry, and furnish a fine opportunity of setting off knowledge of things in general. But must there be notes, my reader may inquire, whether there be occasion for them or not? There must be occasion provided beforehand in the text—which had better be left gnarled and equivocal, where it might be left clear; this will bring your ingenuity into play. At least, let allusions be made here and there—to historical facts and traditions, or to science, on the same principle that Cervantes tells us, the writers in his day filled their margins with dates and names never heard of elsewhere, by way of authorities, and made long "annotaciones" at the bottoms of pages that they might be seen and not read. These men had their reward, for undoubtedly they derived more credit from what was passed over than from what was read.
I don't know what Buckingham was suggesting by saying that Mathew's works "had no other importance or claim to notice than that they afforded opportunities for the exhibition of the wit and humor for which their author was celebrated," but you have just been given a college-level lecture on how not to write poetry by a 15-year-old boy, who had never darkened the door of a university. Note that Mathew could write an essay, and I can still do it, today—day after day, if necessary. I am qualified by demonstrated ability, if not by academic credentials, to pronounce Poe's "Essay on Composition" the manifest bullshit it is.
And what Mathew is protesting, here, is precisely the impression I got when I first poked my nose into Poe's 18-year-old compilation. Contrived. Self-consciously "poetic." Someone who doesn't have poetry in his soul, attempting to write it "by the book."
Precisely as he wrote his essay on composition.
Possession is said to be 9-10ths of the law; the incumbent is hard to eject from office; and reputation is everything.
But you can't judge a book by its cover.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*"Personal Memoirs and Recollections of Editorial Life," by Joseph T. Buckingham, Vol. I, pg. 252, Boston, 1852
**“Experiences During Many Years,” Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, IV.—Concluded. The New England Magazine, Vol. IX No. 2, Oct., 1893, pg. 156
Music opening this page: "The Hook," by The Free Design,
from the album, "Cosmic Peekaboo"