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of tales: the second contains the poetry, Eureka, one or two critical papers, and tales: the third volume is occupied by short critical sketches of almost all the authors of America, and of a few English authors, among whom are Macaulay, Dickens, Lever, and Mrs. Browning. The fourth volume contains a most shocking and repulsive tale of shipwreck and starvation at sea, entitled Arthur Gordon Pym, and more tales of a similar character to those in the preceding volumes. Arthur Gordon Pym is Poe's only attempt at a narrative of any length. Mr. Griswold has forewarned us not to attach much weight to any of Poe's critical opinions; and a perusal of his critical essays leads us to the belief that his ability did not at all lie in that way. They are almost entirely taken up by minute verbal fault-finding: there is hardly anything like the discussion of principles; and many of the papers are evidently dictated by personal spite, and afford us a very unfavourable notion of the tone of American journalism. It is to be hoped that Poe's writings are not a fair specimen of the courtesy, or lack of courtesy, with which literary men across the Atlantic are wont to speak or write of one another. Of the editor of a rival magazine Poe remarks—
Mr. Brown had, for the motto on his magazine cover, the
words of Richelieu,
Here the two monosyllables ‘an ass’ should have been appended. They were no doubt omitted through one of those d d typographical blunders which, through life, have been at once the bane and antidote of Mr. Brown.—(Vol. iii. pp. 1 of 4)
Equally unsatisfactory are the glimpses of American manners with which these critical papers furnish us. The following is Poe's account of a certain John W.
Francis, whom Poe evidently regarded as a very Chesterfield :—
His address is the most genial that can be conceived—its bonhommie irresistible. He never waits for an introduction to anybody; slaps a perfect stranger on the back, and calls him ‘doctor” or “learned Theban; pats every lady on the head, and (if she be pretty and petite) designates her by some such title as “My Pocket Edition of the Lives of the Saints '
But Poe's great power lay in writing tales, which rank in a class by themselves, and have their characteristics strongly defined. They inculcate no moral lesson; they delineate no character; they are utterly away from nature or experience: their sole end is to interest and excite ; and this end is aimed at for the most part by the use of all the appliances of horror. They are sometimes extremely coarse in taste, though never impure in morality. They are often calculated to jar on all human fecling; and when read they leave an indescribably eerie and strange impression upon the mind. Yet they possess such interest as spell-binds the reader; and if read alone and late at night, we venture to say that one could as readily shake off the nightmare as pause in the middle of one of these appalling narratives. There are some humorous tales, which are generally very unsuccessful; though the effect of the serious is often heightened by the infusion of a grotesque and maniac mirth. Monk Lewis and Mrs. Radcliffe are nowhere in the race with Poe. His imagination was so vivid that he appears to have seen all the horrors he describes ; and he sets them before his readers with such terrible graphic power that no nervous person should read his works except by broad daylight, and with a whole family in the room. He gives all his narratives an extraordinary veri-similitude by a circumstantiality of detail which surpasses that of Robinson Crusoe or Sir Edward Seaward; and although the relation is almost always extravagant and impossible, one needs occasionally to pause and recollect, to avoid being carried away by the air of truthfulness and simplicity-with which the story is told. Sometimes the interest is made to depend on following up a close chain of reasoning; and often we find that description of magnificence and that gloating over imaginary wealth which are not unusual in the writings of men possessing a rich fancy amid the res angustae domi. And at all times the language in which the description or the narrative is carried on is almost unparalleled for its exquisite clearness, precision, and nerve. We have already alluded to a piece entitled The Facts in the Case of M. Waldemar, as one which excited great interest when it was published, and which was translated into almost all the languages of Europe. It is an example of the author’s power of balancing an extraordinary and impossible narrative by an appearance of anxiety to tell the simple truth, and by minute circumstantiality in narrating it, which led to the story being very generally believed. M. Valdemar, a friend of Poe, was in the last stage
of consumption. For some months Poe had been
which is described with horrible minuteness. He was dead; and his friends were turning away, leaving him to the nurses.
Concluding that he was dead, we were turning away, when a strong vibratory motion was observable in the tongue. This continued for perhaps a minute. At the expiration of that period there issued from the distended and motionless jaws a voice—such as it would be madness in me to attempt describing. There are, indeed, two or three epithets which might be considered as applicable to it in part; I might say, for example, that the sound was harsh and broken and hollow; but the hideous whole is indescribable, for the simple reason that no similar sounds have ever jarred upon the ear of humanity. There were two particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation—as well adapted to convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the voice appeared to reach our ears—at least mine—from a vast distance, or from some deep cavern within the earth. In the second place, it impressed me as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the sense of touch.
I have spoken both of sound and of voice. I mean to say that the sound was one of distinct—of even wonderfully-thrillingly distinct—syllabification. M. Valdemar spoke—obviously in reply to the question I had propounded to him a few minutes before. I had asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. He now said—
‘Yes—no—I have been sleeping; and now—and now—I am dead.”
No person present even affected to deny, or attempted to repress, the unutterable, shuddering horror which these few words, thus uttered, were so well calculated to convey. Mr. L—l swooned. The nurses immediately left the chamber, and could not be induced to return.
In this condition, dead, yet still held in a strange connection with Poe by the mesmeric influence, M.