Tag Archives: Alfred Smee

The Enormous Multiplication of Books in Every Branch of Knowledge is One of the Greatest Evils of This Age

Edgar Allan Poe? Alfred Smee? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of new books has increased vertiginously in recent years, but even in the nineteenth century critics lamented an oversupply. Did the major literary figure Edgar Allan Poe complain that the proliferation of books was “one of the greatest evils” of his age?

Quote Investigator: Edgar Allan Poe was an early employee of the “Southern Literary Messenger” of Richmond, Virginia. In 1836 he wrote a review of a legal tome titled “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland”, and his first sentence provided a harsh assessment: 1

We cannot perceive any sufficient reason for the publication of this book.

Poe’s piece included a provocative general statement on this topic. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Now, the enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber, in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter, peradventure interspersed. In no department have the complaints of this evil been louder or more just, than in the law.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1836 October, Southern Literary Messenger, Volume 2, Number 11, Bland’s Chancery Reports (Book Review of “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland” by Theodorick Bland) Quote Page 731, Column 2, Publisher and Proprietor T. H. White, Richmond, Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link