America has produced some real literary savages, people to whom you definitely don't want your publisher sending your book. No one is more gleefully brutal than Edgar Allan Poe, though. And boy did he despise the transcendentalists (at least until the so-transcendentalist culmination of his last major work Eureka.) Here he is going off on Margaret Fuller, in an essay on James Russell Lowell.
Miss Margaret Fuller, some time ago, in a silly and conceited piece of Transcendentalism, which she called an “Essay on American Literature,” or something of that kind, had the consummate pleasantry, after selecting from the list of American poets, Cornelius Mathews and William Ellery Channing, for especial commendation, to speak of Longfellow as a booby, and of Lowell as so wretched a poetaster “as to be disgusting even to his best friends.” All this Miss Fuller said, if not in our precise words, still in words quite as much to the purpose. Why she said it, Heaven only knows — unless it was because she was Margaret Fuller, and wished to be taken for nobody else. Messrs. Longfellow and Lowell, so pointedly picked out for abuse as the worst of our poets, are, upon the whole, perhaps, our best — although Bryant, and one or two others are scarcely inferior. As for the two favorites, selected just as pointedly for laudation, by Miss F. — it is really difficult to think of them, in connexion with poetry, without laughing. Mr. Mathews once wrote some sonnets “On Man,” and Mr. Channing some lines on “A Tin Can,” or something of that kind — and if the former gentleman be not the very worst poet that ever existed on the face of the earth, it is only because he is not quite so bad as the latter. To speak algebraically: — Mr. M. is ex ecrable, but Mr. C. is x plus 1-ecrable.
It may be that Poe was feeling even more irritable than usual, because Lowell had, in the book under review, published lines that actually have been hung around Poe's neck ever since.
Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge -
Three fifths of him genius, and two fifths sheer fudge.
Poe quotes these lines himself. It is quite an apt characterization of his authorship, I think.
I'm reading vaguely toward a book workingtitled American Yin Yang: On Emerson and Poe.