Autography 05

Graham’s Magazine January 1842: 44-49



An Appendix of Autographs.



By Edgar A. Poe.



In our November and December numbers we gave fac-simile signatures of no less than one hundred and nine of the most distinguished American literati. Our design was to furnish the readers of the Magazine with a complete series of Autographs, embracing a specimen of the MS. of each of the most noted among our living male and female writers. For obvious reasons, we made no attempt at classification or arrangement — either in reference to reputation or our own private opinion of merit. Our second article will be found to contain as many of the Dii majorum gentium as our first; and this, our third and last, as many as either — although fewer names, upon the whole, than the preceding papers. The impossibility of procuring the signatures now given, at a period sufficiently early for the immense edition of December, has obliged us to introduce this Appendix.

It is with great pleasure that we have found our anticipations fulfilled, in respect to the popularity of these chapters — our individual claim to merit is so trivial that we may be permitted to say so much — but we confess it was with no less surprise than pleasure that we observed so little discrepancy of opinion manifested in relation to the hasty critical, or rather gossiping observations which accompanied the signatures. Where the subject was so wide and so necessarily personal — where the claims of more than one hundred literati, summarily disposed of, were turned over for re-adjudication to a press so intricately bound up in their interest as is ours — it is really surprising how little of dissent was mingled with so much of general comment. The fact, however, speaks loudly to one point: — to the unity of truth. It assures us that the differences which exist among us, are differences not of real, but of affected opinion, and that the voice of him who maintains fearlessly what he believes honestly, is pretty sure to find an echo (if the speaker be not mad) in the vast heart of the world at large.

The “Writings of CHARLES SPRAGUE”   were first collected and published about nine months ago by Mr. Charles S. Francis, of New-York. At the time of the issue of the book, we expressed our opinion frankly, in respect to the general merits of the author — an opinion with which one or two members of the Boston press did not see fit to agree — but which, as yet, we have found no reason for modifying. What we say now is, in spirit, merely a repetition of what we said then. Mr. Sprague is an accomplished belles-lettres scholar, so far as the usual ideas of scholarship extend. He is a very correct rhetorician of the old school. His versification has not been equalled by that of any American — has been surpassed by no one, living or dead. In this regard there are to be found finer passages in his poems than any elsewhere. These are his chief merits. In the essentials of poetry he is excelled by twenty of our countrymen whom we could name. Except in a very few instances he gives no evidence of the loftier ideality. His “Winged Worshippers” and “Lines on the Death of M. S. C.” are beautiful poems — but he has written nothing else which should be called so. His “Shakspeare Ode,” upon which his high reputation mainly depended, is quite a second-hand affair — with no merit whatever beyond that of a polished and vigorous versification. Its imitation of “Collins’ Ode to the Passions”  is obvious. Its allegorical conduct is mawkish, passé, and absurd. The poem, upon the whole, is just such a one as would have obtained its author an Etonian prize some forty or fifty years ago. It is an exquisite specimen of mannerism without meaning and without merit — of an artificial, but most inartistical style of composition, of which conventionality is the soul, — taste, nature and reason the antipodes. A man may be a clever financier without being a genius.

It requires but little effort to see in Mr. Sprague’s MS. all the idiosyncrasy of his intellect. Here are distinctness, precision, and vigor — but vigor employed upon grace rather than upon its legitimate functions. The signature fully indicates the general hand — in which the spirit of elegant imitation and conservatism may be seen reflected as in a mirror.

Mr. CORNELIUS MATHEWS is one of the editors of “Arcturus,” a monthly journal which has attained much reputation during the brief period of its existence. He is the author of “Puffer Hopkins,” a clever satirical tale somewhat given to excess in caricature, and also of the well-written retrospective criticisms which appear in his Magazine. He is better known, however, by “The Motley Book,” published some years ago — a work which we had no opportunity of reading. He is a gentleman of taste and judgment, unquestionably.

His MS. is much to our liking — bold, distinct and picturesque — such a hand as no one destitute of talent indites. The signature conveys the hand.

Mr. CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN is the author of “A Winter in the West,”   “Greyslaer,” and other productions of merit. At one time he edited, with much ability, the “American Monthly Magazine” in conjunction with Mr. Benjamin, and, subsequently, with Dr. Bird. He is a gentleman of talent.

His chirography is not unlike that of Mr. Matthews [sic]. It has the same boldness, strength, and picturesqueness, but is more diffuse, more ornamented and less legible. Our fac-simile is from a somewhat hurried signature, which fails in giving a correct idea of the general hand.

Mr. HORACE GREELEY, present editor of “The Tribune,” and formerly of the “New-Yorker,” has for many years been remarked as one of the most able and honest of American editors. He has written much and invariably well. His political knowledge is equal to that of any of his contemporaries — his general information extensive. As a belles-lettres critic he is entitled to high respect.

His MS. is a remarkable one — having about it a peculiarity which we know not how better to designate than as a converse of the picturesque. His characters are scratchy and irregular, ending with an abrupt taper — if we may be allowed this contradiction in terms, where we have the fac-simile to prove that there is no contradiction in fact. All abrupt MSS., save this, have square or concise terminations of the letters. The whole chirography puts us in mind of a jig. We can fancy the writer jerking up his hand from the paper at the end of each word, and, indeed, of each letter. What mental idiosyncrasy lies perdu beneath all this, is more than we can say, but we will venture to assert that Mr. Greeley (whom we do not know personally) is, personally, a very remarkable man.

The name of Mr. PROSPER M. WETMORE is familiar to all readers of American light literature. He has written a great deal, at various periods, both in prose and poetry, (but principally in the latter) for our Papers, Magazines, and Annuals. Of late days we have seen but little, comparatively speaking, from his pen.

His MS. is not unlike that of Fitz-Greene Halleck, but is by no means so good. Its clerky flourishes indicate a love of the beautiful with an undue straining for effect — qualities which are distinctly traceable in his poetic efforts. As many as five or six words are occasionally run together; and no man who writes thus will be noted for finish of style. Mr. Wetmore is sometimes very slovenly in his best compositions.

PROFESSOR WARE, of Harvard, has written some very excellent poetry, but is chiefly known by his “Life of the Saviour,” “Hints on Extemporaneous Preaching,” and other religious works.

His MS. is fully shown in the signature. It evinces the direct, unpretending strength and simplicity which characterize the man, not less than his general compositions.

The name of WILLIAM B. O. PEABODY, like that of Mr. Wetmore, is known chiefly to the readers of our light literature, and much more familiarly to Northern than to Southern readers. He is a resident of Springfield, Mass. His occasional poems have been much admired.

His chirography is what would be called beautiful by the ladies universally, and, perhaps, by a large majority of the bolder sex. Individually, we think it a miserable one — too careful, undecided, tapering, and effeminate. It is not unlike Mr. Paulding’s, but is more regular and more legible, with less force. We hold it as undeniable that no man of genius ever wrote such a hand.

EPES SARGENT, Esq., has acquired high reputation as the author of “Velasco,”  a tragedy full of beauty as a poem, but not adapted — perhaps not intended — for representation. He has written, besides, many very excellent poems — “The Missing Ship,” for example, published in the “Knickerbocker” — the “Night Storm at Sea” — and, especially, a fine production entitled “Shells and Sea-Weeds.”  One or two Theatrical Addresses from his pen are very creditable in their way — but the way itself is, as we have before said, execrable. As an editor, Mr. Sargent has also distinguished himself. He is a gentleman of taste and high talent.

His MS. is too much in the usual clerk style to be either vigorous, graceful, or easily read. It resembles Mr. Wetmore’s, but has somewhat more force. The signature is better than the general hand, but conveys its idea very well.

The name of “Washington Allston,” the poet and painter, is one that has been long before the public. Of his paintings we have here nothing to say — except briefly, that the most noted of them are not to our taste. His poems are not all of a high order of merit; and, in truth the faults of his pencil and of his pen are identical.  Yet every reader will remember his “Spanish Maid” with pleasure, and the “Address to Great Britain,” first published in Coleridge’s “Sibylline Leaves,”  and attributed to an English author, is a production of which Mr. Allston may be proud.

His MS. notwithstanding an exceedingly simple and even boyish air, is one which we particularly admire. It is forcible, picturesque and legible, without ornament of any description. Each letter is formed with a thorough distinctness and individuality. Such a MS. indicates caution and precision, most unquestionably — but we say of it as we say of Mr. Peabody’s, (a very different MS.) that no man of original genius ever did or could habitually indite it under any circumstances whatever. The signature conveys the general hand with accuracy.

Mr. ALFRED B. STREET has been long before the public as a poet. At as early an age as fifteen, some of his pieces were published by Mr. Bryant in the “Evening Post” — among these was one of much merit, entitled a “Winter Scene.”  In the “New York Book,” and in the collections of American poetry by Messieurs Keese and Bryant, will be found many excellent specimens of his maturer powers. “The Willewemoc,” “The Forest Tree,” “The Indian’s Vigil,” “The Lost Hunter,” and “White Lake” we prefer to any of his other productions which have met our eye. Mr. Street has fine taste, and a keen sense of the beautiful. He writes carefully, elaborately, and correctly. He has made Mr. Bryant his model, and in all Mr. Bryant’s good points would be nearly his equal, were it not for the sad and too perceptible stain of the imitation. That he has imitated at all — or rather that, in mature age, he has persevered in his imitations — is sufficient warranty for placing him among the men of talent rather than among the men of genius.

His MS. is full corroboration of this warranty. It is a very pretty chirography, graceful, legible, and neat. By most persons it would be called beautiful. The fact is, it is without fault — but its merits, like those of his poems, are chiefly negative.

Mr. RICHARD PENN SMITH, although, perhaps, better known in Philadelphia than elsewhere, has acquired much literary reputation. His chief works are “The Forsaken,”     a novel; a pseudo-auto-biography called “Colonel Crocket’s [sic] Tour in Texas;”  the tragedy of “Caius Marius,” and two domestic dramas entitled “The Disowned”  and “The Deformed.”  He has also published two volumes of miscellanies under the title of “The Actress of Padua and other Tales,”     besides occasional poetry. We are not sufficiently cognizant of any of these works to speak with decision respecting their merits. In a biography of Mr. Smith, however, very well written by his friend Mr. McMichael of this city, we are informed of “The Forsaken” that “a large edition of it was speedily exhausted” — of “The Actress of Padua,” that it “had an extensive sale and was much commended” — of the “Tour in Texas,” that “few books attained an equal popularity” — of “Caius Marius,” that “it has great capabilities for an acting play,” of “The Disowned” and “The Deformed,” that they “were performed at the London theatres, where they both made a favorable impression” — and of his poetry in general, “that it will be found superior to the average quality of that commodity.” “It is by his dramatic efforts,” says the biographer, “that his merits as a poet must be determined, and judged by these he will be assigned a place in the foremost rank of American writers.” We have only to add that we have the highest respect for the judgment of Mr. McMichael.

Mr. Smith’s MS. is clear, graceful, and legible, and would generally be called a fine hand, but is somewhat too clerky for our taste.

Dr. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, of Boston, late Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Dartmouth College, has written many productions of merit, and has been pronounced, by a very high authority, the best of the humorous poets of the day.

His chirography is remarkably fine, and a quick fancy might easily detect, in its graceful yet picturesque quaintness, an analogy with the vivid drollery of his style. The signature is a fair specimen of the general MS.

BISHOP DOANE, of New Jersey, is somewhat more extensively known in his clerical than in a literary capacity, but has accomplished much more than sufficient in the world of books to entitle him to a place among the most noted of our living men of letters. The compositions by which he is best known were published, we believe, during his professorship of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in Washington College, Hartford.  

His MS. has some resemblance to that of Mr. Greeley of “The Tribune.” The signature is far bolder and altogether better than the general hand.

We believe that Mr. ALBERT PIKE has never published his poems in book form; nor has he written anything since 1834. His “Hymns to the Gods,” and “Ode to the Mocking Bird,” being printed in Blackwood, are the chief basis of his reputation” [sic]. His lines “To Spring” are, however, much better in every respect, and a little poem from his pen, entitled “Ariel,” and originally published in the “Boston Pearl,” is one of the finest of American compositions.  Mr. Pike has unquestionably merit, and that of a high order. His ideality is rich and well-disciplined. He is the most classic of our poets in the best sense of the term, and of course his classicism is very different from that of Mr. Sprague — to whom, nevertheless, he bears much resemblance in other respects. Upon the whole, there are few of our native writers to whom we consider him inferior.

His MS. shows clearly the spirit of his intellect. We observe in it a keen sense not only of the beautiful and graceful but of the picturesque — neatness, precision and general finish, verging upon effeminacy. In force it is deficient. The signature fails to convey the entire MS. which depends upon masses for its peculiar character.

Dr. JAMES MCHENRY, of Philadelphia, is well known to the literary world as the writer of numerous articles in our Reviews and lighter journals, but more especially as the author of “The Antediluvians,”   an epic poem which has been the victim of a most shameful cabal in this country, and the subject of a very disgraceful pasquinade on the part of Professor Wilson. Whatever may be the demerits, in some regard, of this poem, there can be no question of the utter want of fairness and even of common decency which distinguished the Philippic in question. The writer o[f] a just review of the “Antediluvians” — the only tolerable American epic — would render an important service to the literature of his country.

Dr. McHenry’s MS. is distinct, bold and simple, without ornament or superfluity. The signature well conveys the idea of the general hand.

Mrs. R. S. NICHOLS has acquired much reputation of late years by frequent and excellent contributions to the Magazines and Annuals. Many of her compositions will be found in our pages.

Her MS. is fair, neat and legible, but formed somewhat too much upon the ordinary boarding-school model to afford any indication of character. The signature is a good specimen of the hand.

Mr. RICHARD ADAMS LOCKE is one among the few men of unquestionable genius whom the country possesses. Of the “Moon Hoax” it is supererogatory to say one word — not to know that argues one’s self unknown. Its rich imagination will long dwell in the memory of every one who read it, and surely if

the worth of any thing

Is just so much as it will bring —

if, in short, we are to judge of the value of a literary composition in any degree by its effect — then was the “Hoax” most precious.

But Mr. Locke is also a poet of high order. We have seen — nay more — we have heard him read — verses of his own which would make the fortune of two-thirds of our poetasters; and he is yet so modest as never to have published a volume of poems. As an editor — as a political writer — as a writer in general — we think that he has scarcely a superior in America. There is no man among us to whose sleeve we would rather pin — not our faith (of that we say nothing) — but our judgment.

His MS. is clear, bold and forcible — somewhat modified, no doubt, by the circumstances of his editorial position — but still sufficiently indicative of his fine intellect.

Mr. RALPH WALDO EMERSON belongs to a class of gentlemen with whom we have no patience whatever — the mystics for mysticism’s sake. Quintilian mentions a pedant who taught obscurity, and who once said to a pupil “this is excellent, for I do not understand it myself.” How the good man would have chuckled over Mr. E.! His present rôle seems to be the out-Carlyling Carlyle. Lycophron Tenebrosus is a fool to him. The best answer to his twaddle is cui bono? — a very little Latin phrase very generally mistranslated and misunderstood — cui bono? — to whom is it a benefit? If not to Mr. Emerson individually, then surely to no man living.  

His love of the obscure does not prevent him, nevertheless, from the composition of occasional poems in which beauty is apparent by flashes. Several of his effusions appeared in the “Western Messenger” — more in the “Dial,” of which he is the soul — or the sun — or the shadow. We remember the “Sphynx,” the “Problem,” the “Snow Storm,” and some fine old-fashioned verses entitled “Oh fair and stately maid whose eye.”  

His MS. is bad, sprawling, illegible and irregular — although sufficiently bold. This latter trait may be, and no doubt is, only a portion of his general affectation.

The name of GULIAN C. VERPLANCK has long been familiar to all American readers, and it is scarcely necessary to say more than that we coincide in the general view of his merits. His orations, reviews, and other compositions all evince the cultivated belles-lettres scholar, and man of intellect and taste.    To high genius he has about the same claim as Mr. Sprague, whom in many respects he closely resembles. His chirography is unusually rambling and schoolboyish — but has vigor and precision. It has no doubt been greatly modified by adventitious circumstances, so that it would be impossible to predicate anything respecting it.