Monday, April 7, 2008

Poe's Greatest Hits - mistaking it for an opossum

Edgar Allan Poe made his living as a book reviewer and magazine writer. He was a pioneer, one of the first people to take book reviewing seriously.

More about that later, perhaps. For now, though, how about this, from a review of the poems of William Ellery Channing:

"His book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems, and which he no doubt seriously supposes so to be. They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all. They are not precisely English—nor will we insult a great nation by calling them Kickapoo; perhaps they are Channingese." (p. 459)

Or here, reviewing Confessions of a Poet by Laughton Osborn:

"The most remarkable feature in this production is the bad paper on which it is printed, and the typographical ingenuity with which matter barely enough for one volume has been spread over the pages of two." (p. 867)

Or a crack at Powhatan; a Metrical Romance:

"He has gone straight forward, like a blind horse, and turned neither to the one side nor to the other, for fear of stumbling. But he gets them all in—every one of them—the facts we mean. Powhatan never did anything in his life, we are sure, that Mr. Downing has not got in his poem. He begins at the beginning, and goes on steadily to the end—painting away at his story, just as a sign-painter at a sign; beginning at the left hand side of his board, and plastering through to the right. But he has omitted one very ingenious trick of the sign-painter. He has forgotten to write under his portrait—"this is a pig," and thus there is some danger of mistaking it for an opossum." (p. 920)

The rest of the week: more of the marvels of Edgar Allan Poe, hatchet man.

Every page reference is to Essays and Reviews, Library of America, a valuable book.


  1. This. Is. Hilarious. I need to get this book. Is it all this fabulously gold?

  2. I didn't know Poe had such a sense of humour. Thanks for posting the quotes, I'll have to look out for his reviews.

  3. Hatchet man indeed, ouch. Am looking forward to the rest of the week!

  4. Poe actually wrote numerous comic stories, most of which are now stone dead. But these reviews still have a kick.

    I should, or could, and might, write about more sober aspects of Poe's reviewing, but the hatchet is so much fun, and hard to resist.