Jacksonian Miscellanies, #72

November 10, 1998

An Epic Poem on Dental Hygiene

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 1998. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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[Editor's note: I'm still catching up; may have a house closing in two days if we're lucky.]

The following is from the Knickerbocker, a New York literary magazine which ran from 1833 until the 1860s. It published some good stories and sketches, some poetry (mostly bad), and criticism that was competent in a way, but driven by a combination of tone-deaf formality, and a desire, as revealed below, to have literature serve a didactic purpose (It seems we had a sort of Christian "social realism" long before the USSR promoted its version).

The selection is from Volume III, p150, or February 1834. According to my understanding, it shortly after this came under the editorship of Lewis Gaylord Clark, who edited it for 25 years, after brief editorships by Charles Fenno Hoffman, Timothy Flint, and Samuel D. Langtree. I would appreciate knowing if anyone knows, or can guess, who wrote the review of Dentalogia.

As a bonus, there is also a short review of Jane Austin's Emma, from Vol. II, p143 (August 1833). According to the reviewer, the trouble with Emma is that it "lacks interest". The way this phrase is used suggests a second look at the theme of JM#30, "'Interesting' Uses of the Word Interesting". My impression is that "interesting" typically meant "of vital (material or spiritual) concern", rather than its usual modern meaning ('intellectually titillating', one might say); closely related, it seems to the usage "to have (or own) an interest in" a piece of property, etc.

Anyway, whatever it was, Emma didn't have it.

DENTOLOGIA :­A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth, and their proper Remedies,
By Solyman Brown, A.M. With Notes, practical, historical, illustrative, and explanatory, by Eleazar Parmly, Dentist. New­York. Peabody & Co., 219, Broadway. 1834. 8vo. pp. 176.

[For the Knickerbocker]

The poetical part of this beautiful volume, printed in Sleight & Van Norden's best style, is from the pen of Mr. Brown of this city, extensively known as a writer of both prose and poetry for many of our periodical journals, and who now presents his claim to public favor in a work bearing his name, devoted to a subject entirely novel, yet of unquestionable importance. Forsaking those beaten paths in which the children of song have been prone to expatiate, our author has chosen for himself a solitary way, wild indeed and rocky, opening to anew and unlabored field in the varied landscape of nature. Of this field, hitherto unexplored and uncultivated, the poet discloses the charms with such admirable address, that it presents to the eye of unadulterated taste, "a wilderness of sweets;" ­­ not merely here and there a scattered sample of withered fruit and faded flower, but a wide horizon of fresh and fragrant luxuriance, silvered by the departing shower, and gilded by the returning sunbeams.

To drop the figure;­ Mr. Brown has selected a subject of general and paramount interest, hitherto "unattempted in rhyme," in the English language, and, if we are not utterly seduced from the veracity of criticism, he has arrayed the subject in the chaste, and beautiful, and elegant vesture of genuine poetry. It matters not whether we assert or deny that he has equaled other poets in his own or other countries, either in the elegance of his imaginings or the beauty of his diction: it is sufficient to say, that when we consider the difficulty of inculcating the principles of any art or science in the inverted language of poet embarrassed by the shackles of rhyme, we are compelled to acknowledge that the author of Dentologia has won his laurels in a hard fought field. At any rate, it becomes very few of his compatriot poets, to call in question his legitimate title to their fraternity. It may perhaps be true, that if several of Mr. Brown's occasional poems had been included in this volume, it would have given a more just and adequate impression of the author's general style, and diversified literary merit; but we think this poem alone must secure to, him a reputable station in the consecrated temple of the American muse. A few short, quotations, although incapable of presenting an adequate idea of the merits of the work, may nevertheless be not unacceptable to that portion of our readers who cannot conveniently avail themselves of the volume in question.

In the first Canto, speaking of the beauty of the human countenance, the author says :

We can afford room but for a few extracts, nor do we wish to forestall the pleasure to be derived from a perusal of the entire poem. The following lines from the second Canto may serve as an example of the philosophical energy of the author's style.

The third Canto opens with an Apostrophe to Luxury, the fervid eloquence of which will be a sufficient apology for the following extract.

The fate of Urilla, one of the fictitious characters introduced for the purpose of illustrating the fatal consequences of neglecting the teeth, is thus presented:

One more extract with which the poem closes, must conclude our quotations. It embraces one of the happy illustrations employed by the poet, to show the effects of the loss of teeth in various circumstances of human life.

It remains only to express our views of the Notes annexed by way of appendix to this pleasing volume, by Mr. E. Parmly, a gentleman well known as standing at the head of his profession in this city. Those who are personally acquainted with Mr. Parmly, will not need to be assured, that any remarks coming from his pen, and prompted by his experience and good sense, must be thankfully received by that very numerous and respectable class of our fellow­citizens who are suffering the ravages of tartar and gangrene, and other diseases of the teeth.

These notes are designed to illustrate and enforce the doctrines of the poem, and to serve as a guide to individuals in the management of their teeth :­ and when we consider the importance of these organs to the healthy condition of the System, we cannot hesitate to express the opinion that every member of civilized society who respects the ordinary decencies of life, and pays the slightest regard to personal appearance, health and happiness, should be deeply and constantly impressed with the sentiments inculcated by Mr. Parmly in these amusing and instructive notes. We cannot conclude more appropriately than by recommending to the ladies in particular (for with them the charms of society are deposited as a sacred treasure) the propriety of p1acing this chaste and beautiful volume on their toilets, without a moment of unnecessary delay. They will have the satisfaction of reflecting, after a careful perusal of the work, that their time has been usefully employed, and that not a sentiment or allusion has engaged their attention, at which virtue should recoil or modesty blush.

Emma, a Novel, in 2 vols. By Miss Austen, Author of "Pride and Prejudice,", "Mansfield Park," "Persuasion," &c. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard.

Emma is a novel of some years standing. Miss Austen's aim in writing it seems to have been to describe, in the character of Emma, the effect which uncontrolled authority from infancy, and high notions of privileged rank, would have in forming the disposition of a female of great personal beauty and accomplishments, with a naturally strong mind. Accordingly, we have her, with the best motives imaginable, continually acting the patroness to her friends, and affecting to regulate their destinies, by her own preconceived notions of the distinctions in society; imagining herself in love, when she has found an object she believes appropriate; and seeming astonished, as at a contingency out of the range of possibility, when she finds the gentleman she believes her admirer, had neglected her for a lovely and accomplished girl of obscurer birth.

There may be in all this a great degree of merit, as a fine and delicate conception, but it has been embodied at the sacrifice of what we prefer -- that of interest. Of this essential quality in a novel, Emma is so seriously deficient, that all the talents of its author have proved incompetent to make a story which the most determined patience can peruse.

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