A Chapter On Autography


The article must have been popular, for Poe went on to write two more, eventually scrutinizing the signatures of over a hundred men and women. His compilation provides a plangent lesson about the transience of fame; Poe in his introduction stressed that “in the necessity of selection which circumstances impose upon us, we confine ourselves to the most noted among the living literati of the country,” yet for every familiar name there are a dozen that are today completely forgotten. Here, then, is a selection of signatures of men and women, famous and obscure, as they appeared in Graham’s Magazine, together with Poe’s barbed commentary. A few of the authors under examination are shown as they appeared in an 1888 set of “Authors.” It is some index of the huge popularity of that uplifting card game that this particular set is only one of scores in the collection of Herbert J. Siegel of Wyncote, Pennsylvania. —R.F.S.

Mr. Ingraham, or Ingrahame, (for he writes his name sometimes with, and sometimes without the e ), is one of our most popular novelists, if not one of our best. He appeals always to the taste of the ultra-romanticists (as a matter, we believe, rather of pecuniary policy than of choice) and thus is obnoxious to the charge of a certain cut-and-thrust, blue-fire, melodramaticism. Still, he is capable of better things. His chirography is very unequal; at times, sufficiently clear and flowing, at others, shockingly scratchy and uncouth. From it nothing whatever can be predicated, except an uneasy vacillation of temper and of purpose.

Mr. Cooper’s MS . is very bad— unformed , with little of distinctive character about it, and varying greatly in different epistles. In most of those before us a steel pen has been employed, the lines are crooked, and the whole chirography has a constrained and school-boyish air. … Without appearing ill-natured, we could scarcely draw any inferences from such a MS . Mr. Cooper has seen manyvicissitudes, and it is probable that he has not always written thus. Whatever are his faults, his genius cannot be doubted.

J. Greenleaf Whittier, is placed by his particular admirers in the very front rank of American poets. We are not disposed, however, to agree with their decision in every respect. Mr. Whittier is a fine versifier, so far as strength is regarded independently of modulation. His subjects, too, are usually chosen with the view of affording scope to a certain vivida vis of expression which seems to be his forte; but in taste, and especially in imagination , which Coleridge has justly styled the soul of all poetry, he is even remarkably deficient. His themes are never to our liking.

His chirography is an ordinary clerk’s hand, affording little indication of character.

Mrs. Embury is chiefly known by her contributions to the Periodicals of the country. She is one of the most nervous of our female writers, and is not destitute of originality—that rarest of all qualities in a woman, and especially in an American woman.

Her MS . evinces a strong disposition to fly off at a tangent from the old formulae of the Boarding Academies. Both in it, and in her literary style, it would be well that she should no longer hesitate to discard the absurdities of mere fashion.

The chirography of Ex-President Adams, (whose poem, “The Wants of Man,” has, of late, attracted so much attention), is remarkable for a certain steadiness of purpose pervading the whole, and overcoming even the constitutional tremulousness of the writer’s hand. Wavering in every letter, the entire MS. has yet a firm, regular, and decisive appearance. …

Mr. Bryant’s MS . puts us entirely at fault. It is one of the most commonplace clerk’s hands which we ever encountered, and has no character about it beyond that of the day-book and ledger. He writes, in short, what mercantile men and professional penmen call a fair hand, but what artists would term an abominable one. Among its regular up and down strokes, waving lines and hair-lines, systematic taperings and flourishes, we look in vain for the force, polish, and decision of the poet. The picturesque, to be sure, is equally deficient in his chirography and in his poetical productions.

Mr. J. R. Lowell, of Massachusetts, is entitled, in our opinion, to at least the second or third place among the poets of America. …

His MS . is strongly indicative of the vigor and precision of his poetical thought. The man who writes thus, for example, will never be guilty of metaphorical extravagance, and there will be found terseness as well as strength in all that he does.