The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864/Third Volume

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The Third Volume

Volume III, January, 1837, opens with "A visit to My Native Village, after an Absence of Thirty Years," by Hon. James K. Paulding, to which succeeds "A Ballad," by E. A. Poe. Shortly after, he commences his serial sea story of "Arthur Gordon Pym." Then, he has a "Sonnet, to Zante." But, at the bottom of page 72, the reader is startled at the following curt announcement: "Mr. Poe's attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the editorial duties of the Messenger. His critical notices for this month end with Prof. Anthon's 'Cicero'—what follows is from another hand. With the best wishes to the Magazine, and to its few foes as well as many friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell." He had, however, furnished for this large number of 96 pages much more material than has been enumerated. At its close, Mr. White informs his patrons that "Mr. Poe, who has filled the editorial department for the last 12 months with so much ability, retired from that station, on the 3rd inst, and the entire management of the work again devolves upon myself alone. Mr. P., however, will continue to furnish its columns, from time to time, with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen." He also states that Mr. Poe was the author of the reviews of Bryant's Poems, George Balcombe, Irving's Astoria, and Reynold's Address, on the South Sea Expedition. Thus, it will be seen how large a portion of this grand number was contributed by his pen. But it may have been executed some time prior to January; because the contents had to be made up in advance and the Messenger strove to appear on or very near the 20th of each month preceding the one for which it was dated. This number must, however, have been partly prepared and printed in January and several delays have already been noted.

This review of Wm. C. Bryant's poems might find a place in any edition of Poe's works, because of its subject and mode of treatment. It shows what special pains Mr. Poe was even then taking towards perfecting his own poetry and what were his ideas of true poetry. There is, too, one striking passage in it. He compares Bryant with Young and Cowper, with whom he has many points of analogy, and says: "He has a juster appreciation of the beautiful than the one; of the sublime, than the other,—a finer taste than Cowper; an equally vigorous and far more delicate imagination than Young. In regard to his proper rank among American poets there should be no question whatever. Few—at least few who are fairly before the public, have more than very shallow claims to a rivalry with the author of Thanatopsis" What did he mean by those words, "few who are fairly before the public"? Was he yet to be there?

In his review of "Geo. Balcombe" he discloses the fact that Judge Beverly Tucker was its author. But Judge Tucker had also written "The Partizan Leader" and immediately after Mr. Poe's resignation comes a full review of this work by Judge Abel P. Upshur, an exceedingly able man and a very fine writer. There is also a critical review of Bulwer's new play: "The Duchess de la Vallière;" so that the Messenger had other reviewers besides Mr. Poe.

This initial number of a third volume is a great one. The next number for February is reduced to the usual 64 pages and goes through without any assistance from Mr. Poe, except a second part of his sea story, "Author Gordon Pym." It closes without any evidence of editorial supervision, except some notes "To our readers." Some of the leading features of this number are the Address of Hon. Thos. W. Gilmer before the Virginia Historical Society; "Notes and Anecdotes, Political and Miscellaneous, drawn from the Portfolio of an Officer of the Empire," translated by a gentleman residing in Paris, and which are continued; "A Tale of the 14th Century," by Mrs. E. F. Ellett, and poems, by Mrs. Sigourney and Dr. W. Gilmore Simms.

The March number is the first that ever bore the name of T. W. White as editor and proprietor, but that statement was kept up until his death. Mr. Poe besought the proprietor to reinstate him as editor, but Mr. White, in terms firm yet kindly, refused to do so. That number was reduced to 48 pages, and though those were well filled there was little evidence that an editor was at the helm.

In April, the work returns to its normal 64 pages and shows that an editor has again mounted the tripod; but he is not always there. Who, if anybody, was recognized as editor during the residue of this year can not be averred. There are a number of new contributors, some of whom furnish very good substitutes for editorial work. Some of the serials, especially "Constantine, or the Rejected Throne," by Mrs. Harrison Smith, are completed and others commenced; several long and ambitious poems are given; there are animated discussions of Miss Edgeworth's "Helen" and the "Pickwick Papers"; articles by Prof. Francis Lieber and John W. Draper; and in December, the Oration delivered at Yorktown, on October 19th, by the Hon. John Tyler. There are also some original letters by Mr. Jefferson. There are, too, some reviews which show that Mr. Poe was not the only critic who could use the scalpel, and one of Wordsworth, which rejoices that the tide of appreciation had turned in his favor.

Who, if anybody, was the chief editor after Mr. Poe is not known; but Mr. White must have had assistance. Mr. Heath and other literary friends were in Richmond and Mr. Minor was practicing law at Louisa C. H. near by. One high authority has asserted that Judge Henry St. Geo. Tucker was for a while the editor of the Messenger, but his duties as president of the Supreme Court of Virginia rendered it impossible for him to hold that position. Mr. Fergusson says that material aid was afforded by the Rev. E. H. Chapin, who came frequently to the office, and a Mr. Sparhawk, to whom he often carried proofs and MSS. He was employed in one of the offices in the basement of the Capitol. Mr. Chapin came to Richmond about 1836 and preached for a congregalion of Universalists and Unitarians, on Mayo street. He was born in New York, but received his collegiate education in Vermont, he was young, but had decided literary tastes and aspirations. In 1840, he went to Massachusetts and finally got to New York City, where a large church was built for him, by Universalists, on Fifth avenue and 45th street. He became quite distinguished as an author and an orator.

Mr. Thomas Willys White was not a literary man; but an excellent printer, who had served part of his time in Boston, and no doubt his experience and observation there stimulated his enterprise and were of good service to him in undertaking the Messenger, in which he had higher aims than procuring a monthly job of printing. For he had a liberal spirit and a proper State pride. He could write a very correct and diplomatic letter, well calculated to obtain what he desired, and he was an indefatigable correspondent. It is probable that his not being a literary character was an advantage to him in his efforts to establish the Messenger, by drawing out the cordial cooperation which was extended to him. His sentiments towards Northern people conciliated them, whilst his being a native of Virginia strengthened him in the South. A correspondent of the Portland Advertiser once claimed him for the North and he corrected the mistake in the following terms: "The publisher did once reside in the city of Boston and can freely bear testimony to the high character, generous feelings and the noble accomplishments of its citizens; but he was only a sojourner among them, having been born and for the most part reared in the Old Dominion. If he were not a full-blooded Tuckahoe Virginian, he would like to be a Bostonian." Volume I. 65. He was a native of historic Yorktown, Va.