Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, vol. III, 1850, pp. 112-128.
Last Update: Dec. 13, 2000 Navigation: Main Menu Poe's Misc[Text: Edgar Allan Poe, "The Literati" (Part V) (D), The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, vol. III, 1850, pp. 112-128.]
CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN.
FENNO HOFFMAN has been long known
to the public as an author. He commenced his literary career (as
is usually the case in America) by writing for the newspapers for "The
New York American" especially, in the editorial conduct of which he became
in some manner associated, at a very early age, with Mr. Charles King.
His first book, I believe, was a collection (entitled "A Winter
in the West") of letters published in "The American" during a tour made
by their author through the "far West." This work appeared in 1834, went
through several editions, was reprinted in London, was very popular, and
deserved its popularity. It conveys the natural enthusiasm of a
true idealist, in the proper phrenological sense, of one sensitively
alive to beauty in every development. Its scenic descriptions are
vivid, because fresh, genuine, unforced. There is nothing of the
cant of the tourist for the sake not of nature but of tourism. The
author writes what he feels, and, clearly, because he feels
it. The style,
Mr. H.'s next work was "Wild Scenes in the Forest and Prairie," very similar to the preceding, but more diversified with anecdote and interspersed with poetry. "Greyslaer" followed, a romance based on the well known murder of Sharp, the Solicitor-General of Kentucky, by Beauchampe. W. Gilmore Simms, (who has far more power, more passion, more movement, more skill than Mr. Hoffman) has treated the subject more effectively in his novel "Beauchampe;" but the fact is that both gentlemen have positively failed, as might have been expected. That both books are interesting is no merit either of Mr. H. or of Mr. S. The real events were more impressive than are the fictitious ones. The facts of this remarkable tragedy, as arranged by actual circumstance, would put to shame the skill of the most consummate artist. Nothing was left to the novelist but the amplification of character, and at this point neither the author of "Greyslaer" nor of "Beauchampe" is especially au fait. The incidents might be better woven into a tragedy.
In the way of poetry, Mr. Hoffman has also
written a good deal. "The Vigil of Faith and other Poems" is the
title of a volume published several years ago. The subject of the
leading poem is happy whether originally conceived by Mr. H. or based
on an actual superstition, I cannot say. Two Indian chiefs are rivals
in love. The accepted lover is about to be made happy, when his betrothed
is murdered by the discarded suitor. The revenge taken is the careful
of the life of the assassin, under the idea that the
meeting the maiden in another world is the point most desired by both the
survivors. The incidents interwoven are picturesque, and there are
many quotable passages; the descriptive portions are particularly good;
but the author has erred, first, in narrating the story in the first person,
and secondly, in putting into the mouth of the narrator language and
Whatever may be the merits of Mr. Hoffman as
a poet, it may be easily seen that these merits have been put in the worst
possible light by the indiscriminate and lavish approbation bestowed on
them by Dr. Griswold in his "Poets and Poetry of America." The editor can
find no blemish in Mr. H., agrees with everything and copies everything
said in his praise worse than all, gives him more space in the book than
any two, or perhaps three, of our poets combined. All this is as
much an insult to Mr. Hoffman as to the public, and has done the former
irreparable injury how or why, it is of course unnecessary to say.
"Heaven save us from our
Mr. Hoffman was the original editor of "The
Knickerbocker Magazine," and gave it while under his control a tone and
character, the weight of which may be best estimated by the consideration
that the work thence received, an impetus which has sufficed to bear it
on alive, although tottering, month after month,
He is the brother of Ogden Hoffman. Their father, whose family came to New York from Holland before the time of Peter Stuyvesant, was often brought into connexion or rivalry with such men as Pinckney, Hamilton and Burr.
The character of no man is more universally
esteemed and admired than that of the subject of this memoir. He
has a host of friends, and it is quite impossible that he should have an
enemy in the world. He is chivalric to a fault, enthusiastic, frank
without discourtesy, an ardent admirer of the beautiful, a gentleman of
best school a gentleman by birth, by education and by instinct.
His manners are graceful and winning in the extreme quiet, affable and
dignified, yet cordial and dégagés. He converses much,
earnestly, accurately and well. In person he is remarkably handsome.
He is about five feet ten in height, somewhat stoutly made. His countenance
is a noble one a full index of the character. The features are somewhat
massive but regular. The eyes are blue, or light gray, and full of
fire; the mouth finely formed, although the lips have a slight expression
of voluptuousness; the forehead, to my surprise, although high [[,]] gives
no indication, in the region of the temples, of that ideality (or love
of the beautiful) which is the distinguishing trait of his moral nature.
The hair curls, and is of a dark brown, interspersed with gray. He wears
full whiskers. Is about forty years of age. Unmarried.
MARY E. HEWITT.
I AM not aware that Mrs. Hewitt
has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent.
A collection of them was published, in an exquisitely tasteful form, by
Ticknor & Co., of Boston. The leading piece, entitled "Songs
of our Land," although the largest, was by no means the most meritorious.
In general, these compositions evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen
appreciation of both moral and physical beauty. No one of them, perhaps,
can be judiciously commended as a whole; but no one of them is without
merit, and there are several which would do credit to any poet in the land.
Still, even these latter are particularly rather than generally commendable.
They lack unity, totality ultimate effect, but abound in forcible passages.
Mrs. Hewitt has warm partialities for the sea and
all that concerns it. Many of her best poems turn upon sea adventures
or have reference to a maritime life. Some portions of her
"God bless the Mariner" are naïve and picturesque: e.g.
The tone of some quatrains entitled "Alone," differs materially from that usual with Mrs. Hewitt. The idea is happy and well managed.
Mrs. Hewitt's sonnets are upon the whole, her most
praiseworthy compositions. One entitled "Hercules and Omphale"
is noticeable for the vigor of its rhythm.
The unusual force of the line italicized, will be observed. This force arises first, from the directness, or colloquialism without vulgarity, of its expression: (the relative pronoun "which" is very happily omitted between "skin" and "the") and, secondly, to the musical repetition of the vowel in "Cleonan," together with the alliterative terminations in "Cleonan" and "lion." The effect, also, is much aided by the sonorous conclusion "wore."
Another and better instance of fine versification
occurs in "Forgotten Heroes."
The general intention here is a line of four iambuses
alternating with a line of three; but, less through rhythmical skill than
a musical ear, the poetess has been led into some exceedingly happy variations
of the theme. For example; -- in place of the ordinary iambus as
the first foot of the first, of the second, and of the third line, a bastard
iambus has been employed. These lines are thus scanned:
The fourth line,
is well varied by a trochee, instead of an iambus, in the first foot;
and the variation expresses forcibly the enthusiasm excited by the topic
of the supposed songs, "Thermophylæ". The fifth line is scanned
as the three first. The sixth is the general intention, and consists
simply of iambuses. The seventh is like the three first and
the fifth. The eighth is like the fourth; and here again the opening
trochee is admirably adapted to the movement of the topic.
The ninth is the general intention, and is formed of four iambuses.
The tenth is an alternating line and yet has four iambuses, instead of
the usual three; as has also the final line and alternating one, too.
A fuller volume is in this manner given to the close of the subject; and
this volume is fully in keeping with the rising enthusiasm. The last
line but one has two bastard iambuses, thus:
Upon the whole, it may be said that the most skilful
versifer could not have written lines better suited to the purposes of
I should be doing this lady injustice were I not
to mention that, at times, she rises into a higher and purer region of
poetry than might be supposed, or inferred, from any of the passages which
I have hitherto quoted. The conclusion of her "Ocean Tide to the
Rivulet" puts me in mind of the rich spirit of Horne's noble epic, "Orion."
The personifications here are well managed. The "Here ! 'neath the o'erhanging rock !" has the high merit of being truthfully, by which I mean naturally, expressed, and imparts exceeding vigor to the whole stanza. The idea of the ebb-tide, conveyed in the second line italicized, is one of the happiest imaginable; and too much praise can scarcely be bestowed on the "rushing" of the "fair white feet." The passage altogether is full of fancy, earnestness, and the truest poetic strength. Mrs. Hewitt has given many such indications of a fire which, with more earnest endeavor, might be readily fanned into flame.
In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent
sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner
subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly. In person she is tall and
slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general
expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable.
RICHARD ADAMS LOCKE.
ABOUT twelve years ago, I think, "The New York Sun," a daily paper, price one penny, was established in the city of New York by Mr. Moses Y. Beach, who engaged MR. RICHARD ADAMS LOCKE as its editor. In a well-written prospectus, the object of the journal professed to be that of "supplying the public with the news of the day at so cheap a rate as to lie within the means of all." The consequences of the scheme, in their influence on the whole newspaper business of the country, and through this business on the interests of the country at large, are probably beyond all calculation.
Previous to "The Sun," there had been an unsuccessful attempt at publishing a penny paper in New York, and "The Sun" itself was originally projected and for a short time issued by Messrs. Day & Wisner; its establishment, however, is altogether due to Mr. Beach, who purchased it of its disheartened originators. The first decided movement of the journal, nevertheless, is to be attributed to Mr. Locke; and in so saying, I by no means intend any depreciation of Mr. Beach, since in the engagement of Mr. L. he had but given one of the earliest instances of that unusual sagacity for which I am inclined to yield him credit.
At all events, "The Sun" was revolving in a
comparatively narrow orbit when, one fine day, there appeared in its editorial
columns a prefatory article announcing very remarkable astronomical discoveries
made at the Cape of Good Hope by Sir John Herschell. The information
was said to have been received by "The Sun" from an early copy of "The
Edinburgh Journal of Science," in which appeared a communication from Sir
John himself. This preparatory announcement took very well, (there had
been no hoaxes in those days,) and was followed by full details of the
reputed discoveries, which were now found to have been made chiefly in
respect to the moon, and by means of a telescope to which the one lately
constructed by the Earl of Rosse is a plaything. As these discoveries
were gradually spread before the public, the astonishment of that public
grew out of all bounds;
About six months before this occurrence, the Harpers had issued an American edition of Sir John Herschell's "Treatise on Astronomy," and I had been much interested in what is there said respecting the possibility of future lunar investigations. The theme excited my fancy, and I longed to give free rein to it in depicting my day-dreams about the scenery of the moon in short, I longed to write a story embodying these dreams. The obvious difficulty, of course, was that of accounting for the narrator's acquaintance with the satellite; and the equally obvious mode of surmounting the difficulty was the supposition of an extraordinary telescope. I saw at once that the chief interest of such a narrative must depend upon the reader's yielding his credence in some measure as to details of actual fact. At this stage of my deliberations, I spoke of the design to one or two friends to Mr. John P. Kennedy, the author of "Swallow Barn," among others and the result of my conversations with them was that the optical difficulties of constructing such a telescope as I conceived were so rigid and so commonly understood, that it would be in vain to attempt giving due verisimilitude to any fiction having the telescope as a basis. Reluctantly, therefore, and only half convinced, (believing the public, in fact, more readily gullible than did my friends,) I gave up the idea of imparting very close verisimilitude to what I should write that is to say, so close as really to deceive. I fell back upon a style half plausible, half bantering, and resolved to give what interest I could to an actual passage from the earth to the moon, describing the lunar scenery as if surveyed and personally examined by the narrator. In this view I wrote a story which I called "Hans Phaall," publishing it about six months afterwards in "The Southern Literary Messenger," of which I was then editor.
It was three weeks after the issue of "The
Messenger" containing "Hans Phaall," that the first of the "Moon-hoax"
editorials made its appearance in "The Sun," and no sooner had I
Having stated the case, however, in this form, I am bound to do Mr. Locke the justice to say that he denies having seen my article prior to the publication of his own; I am bound to add, also, that I believe him.
Immediately on the completion of the "Moon story," (it was three or four days in getting finished,) I wrote an examination of its claims to credit, showing distinctly its fictitious character, but was astonished at finding that I could obtain few listeners, so really eager were all to be deceived, so magical were the charms of a style that served as the vehicle of an exceedingly clumsy invention.
It may afford even now some amusement to see pointed out those particulars of the hoax which should have sufficed to establish its real character. Indeed, however rich the imagination displayed in this fiction, it wanted much of the force which might have been given it by a more scrupulous attention to general analogy and to fact. That the public were misled, even for an instant, merely proves the gross ignorance which (ten or twelve years ago) was so prevalent on astronomical topics.
The moon's distance from the earth is, in round
numbers, 240,000 miles. If we wish to ascertain how near, apparently,
a lens would bring the satellite, (or any distant object,) we, of course,
have but to divide the distance by the magnifying, or, more
On page 18, (of the pamphlet edition,) speaking of "a hairy veil" over the eyes of a species of bison, Mr. L. says "It immediately occurred to the acute mind of Doctor Herschell that this was a providential contrivance to protect the eyes of the animal from the great extremes of light and darkness to which all the inhabitants of our side of the moon are periodically subjected." But this should not be thought a very "acute" observation of the Doctor's. The inhabitants of our side of the moon have, evidently, no darkness at all; in the absence of the sun they have a light from the earth equal to that of thirteen full moons, so that there can be nothing of the extremes mentioned.
The topography throughout, even when professing to accord with Blunt's Lunar Chart, is at variance with that and all other lunar charts, and even at variance with itself. The points of the compass, too, are in sad confusion; the writer seeming to be unaware that, on a lunar map, these are not in accordance with terrestrial points the east being to the left, and so forth.
Deceived, perhaps, by the vague titles Mare
Nubium, Mare Tranquilitatis, Mare Fæcunditatis, etc., given by
astronomers of former times to the dark patches on the moon's surface,
Mr. L. has long details respecting oceans and other large bodies of water
in the moon; whereas there is no astronomical point more positively ascertained
than that no such bodies exist there. In examining the boundary between
light and darkness in a crescent or gibbous moon, where this boundary crosses
any of the dark places, the line of division is found to be jagged; but
were these dark places liquid, they would evidently be even.
The description of the wings of the man-bat (on page 21) is but a literal copy of Peter Wilkins' account of the wings of his flying islanders. This simple fact should at least have induced suspicion.
On page 23 we read thus "What a prodigious influence must our thirteen times larger globe have exercised upon this satellite when an embryo in the womb of time, the passive subject of chemical affinity!" Now, this is very fine; but it should be observed that no astronomer could have made such a remark, especially to any "Journal of Science," for the earth in the sense intended (that of bulk) is not only thirteen but forty-nine times larger than the moon. A similar objection applies to the five or six concluding pages of the pamphlet, where, by way of introduction to some discoveries in Saturn, the philosophical correspondent is made to give a minute school-boy account of that planet an account quite supererogatory, it might be presumed, in the case of "The Edinburgh Journal of Science."
But there is one point, in especial, which should have instantly betrayed the fiction. Let us imagine the power really possessed of seeing animals on the moon's surface what in such case would first arrest the attention of an observer from the earth? Certainly neither the shape, size, nor any other peculiarity in these animals so soon as their remarkable position they would seem to be walking heels up and head down, after the fashion of flies on a ceiling. The real observer (however prepared by previous knowledge) would have commented on this odd phenomenon before proceeding to other details; the fictitious observer has not even alluded to the subject, but in the case of the man-bats speaks of seeing their entire bodies, when it is demonstrable that he could have seen little more than the apparently flat hemisphere of the head.
I may as well observe, in conclusion, that
the size, and especially the powers of the man-bats, (for example, their
ability to fly in so rare an atmosphere if, indeed, the moon has any,)
with most of the other fancies in regard to animal and vegetable existence,
are at variance generally with all analogical reasoning on these themes,
and that analogy here will often amount to the most positive demonstration.
The temperature of the moon,
It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to add, that all the suggestions attributed to Brewster and Herschell in the beginning of the hoax, about the "transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of vision," etc., etc., belong to that species of figurative writing which comes most properly under the head of rigmarole. There is a real and very definite limit to optical discovery among the stars, a limit whose nature need only be stated to be understood. If, indeed, the casting of large lenses were all that is required, the ingenuity of man would ultimately prove equal to the task, and we might have them of any size demanded;* but, unhappily, in proportion to the increase of size in the lens, and consequently of space-penetrating power, is the diminution of light from the object by diffusion of the rays. And for this evil there is no remedy within human reach; for an object is seen by means of that light alone, whether direct or reflected, which proceeds from the object itself. Thus the only artificial light which could avail Mr. Locke, would be such as he should be able to throw, not upon "the focal object of vision," but upon the moon. It has been easily calculated that when the light proceeding from a heavenly body becomes so diffused as to be as weak as the natural light given out by the stars collectively in a clear, moonless night, then the heavenly body for any practical purpose is no longer visible.
* Neither of the Herschells dreamed
of the possibility of a speculum six feet in diameter, and now the marvel
has been triumphantly accomplished by Lord Rosse. There is, in fact,
no physical impossibility in our casting lenses of even fifty feet
diameter or more. A sufficiency of means and skill is all
that is demanded. [[This footnote appears at the bottom of page 125.]]
The singular blunders to which I have referred
being properly understood, we shall have all the better reason for wonder
at the prodigious success of the hoax. Not one person in ten
discredited it, and (strangest point of all!) the doubters were chiefly
those who doubted without being able to say why the ignorant, those uninformed
in astronomy, people who would not believe because the thing was
so novel, so entirely "out of the usual way." A
Having read the Moon story to an end, and found it anticipative of all the main points of my "Hans Phaall," I suffered the latter to remain unfinished. The chief design in carrying my hero to the moon was to afford him an opportunity of describing the lunar scenery, but I found that he could add very little to the minute and authentic account of Sir John Herschell. The first part of "Hans Phaall," occupying about eighteen pages of "The Messenger," embraced merely a journal of the passage between the two orbs, and a few words of general observation on the most obvious features of the satellite; the second part will most probably never appear. I did not think it advisable even to bring my voyager back to his parent earth. He remains where I left him, and is still, I believe, "the man in the moon."
From the epoch of the hoax "The Sun" shone with unmitigated splendor. The start thus given the paper insured it a triumph; it has now a daily circulation of not far from fifty thousand copies, and is, therefore, probably, the most really influential journal of its kind in the world. Its success firmly established "the penny system" throughout the country, and (through "The Sun") consequently, we are indebted to the genius of Mr. Locke for one of the most important steps ever yet taken in the pathway of human progress.
On dissolving, about a year afterwards, his
connexion with Mr. Beach, Mr. Locke established a political daily paper,
The next point made by their author was the getting up a book on magnetism as the primum mobile of the universe, in connexion with Doctor Sherwood, the practitioner of magnetic remedies. The more immediate purpose of the treatise was the setting forth a new magnetic method of obtaining the longitude. The matter was brought before Congress and received with favorable attention. What definite action was had I know not. A review of the work appeared in "The Army and Navy Chronicle," and made sad havoc of the whole project. It was enabled to do this, however, by attacking in detail the accuracy of some calculations of no very radical importance. These and others Mr. Locke is now engaged in carefully revising; and my own opinion is that his theory (which he has reached more by dint of imagination than of anything else) will finally be established, although, perhaps, never thoroughly by him.
His prose style is noticeable for its concision, luminousness, completeness each quality in its proper place. He has that method so generally characteristic of genius proper. Everything he writes is a model in its peculiar way, serving just the purposes intended and nothing to spare. He has written some poetry, which, through certain radical misapprehensions, is not very good.
Like most men of true imagination, Mr. Locke is a seemingly paradoxical compound of coolness and excitability.
He is about five feet seven inches in height,
symmetrically formed; there is an air of distinction about his whole person
the air noble of genius. His face is strongly pitted by
the small-pox, and, perhaps from the same cause, there is a marked obliquity
in the eyes; a certain calm, clear luminousness, however, about
these latter, amply compensates for the defect, and the forehead
[In the entry for Charles F. Hoffman, in the last full paragraph of page 114, there are two changes which suggest the hand of Griswold. The first is the use of the abbreviation of "Dr. Griswold" in place of the original "Doctor Griswold." The second is the substitution of the word "editor" for "compiler" to describe Griswold's role in the creation of "The Poets and Poetry of America."]
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[S:1 - Works, 1850]