Text: Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith, “Edgar A. Poe,” United States Magazine, vol. IV, no. 3, March 1857, 4:262-268


­[page 262, column 1, continued:]

Edgar Allan Poe


IN the estimate which the critic or biographer is called upon to make of a person of genius, reference is to be had less to the incidents connected with the experience of such an individual than the psychological basis from whence such manifestations proceed. We may be told that a man is drunk in the gutter, and from the impulse of a common humanity we go out and find a gross, beastly man, with large appetites and deficient restraining power. We are disgusted more than pained. We see at once that debauchery and drunkenness range legitimately in such organization. The man is weighed by it — covered over and pressed down by the Pelion upon Ossa of his materialism lording it over the dwarfed and impoverished spiritual. [column 2:]

Again we are called forth. The subject this time is a thin, spiritual youth, with a manly, intellectual brow, and an organization fine as a Damascus blade. We are pained now to the very soul. A heavenly pity is in our heart of hearts. As they reverently vail [[veil]] the face of the dead, so we would hide this desecration of the temple of God from the eyes of men and angels. This manifestation of irregularity does not belong to this refined organization. God designed better things in and through this man, or woman, as the case may be. We witness this law; we bow down to it, and when it is violated we are shocked as though we had seen a white-winged angel trailing his beautiful wings through the filth and mire of the highway.

The stand-point of biography should be here. Men and women are to be judged by the great laws pervading their creation. A soul may be imperfectly lodged; it manifests itself through a clogged and impeded vehicle; it is Hyperion to a Satyr. It is menaced in a donjon-keep, confined in battlemented tower, through the slender loop-holes of which it looks imperfectly forth and but dimly descries the magnitude and beauty of the world without. Thus it is that sense, materializing, may lord it over the soul. Where it does so habitually we condemn and avoid. When the spirit asserts its supremacy for the most part and then is lost, our grief and condemnation are very great. We cannot, or will not, see the one discordant thread which has marred the beauty of the entire fabric. Let us leave the judgment seat to God, the great dispenser, and learn human charity. As yet we have little deserving the name of biography, because of this lack of psychological basis.

In reading of the Life and Writings of Edgar A. Poe we are most especially struck with suggestions of the kind, and painfully convinced that great injustice has been done, both to the character and genius of this man. That great and glaring defects were apparent in him we shall not attempt to deny. We shall not call these vices by any but the names authenticated in our moral calendar, but we shall assert that Poe saw these and felt them himself — he deplored in his better moments all that was not intrinsically excellent — he was never level to his own vices — he was never a mean, skulking coward, gloating over his deformities, but the true man, rejecting one evil after another, as his conscience was awakened to the perception.

His character and genius are, perhaps, more remarkable than any which have appeared among us for the same opportunity afforded for analytic investigation. Poe was a greater enigma ­[page 263:] to himself than even to others. With an organization delicate, impulsive, and of the subtilest [[subtlest]] fineness, he had gross appetites, which asserted themselves at unexpected intervals — with a clear, luminous intellect, and a reaching imagination; he could never link this part of his nature with the emotional portion of it, so that he might be said to have two natures, each utterly distinct from the other.

In saying this we wish to say, however, that Poe grew, as it were, by piece-meal. One faculty often started into preternatural activity, while another came up like a slow coach behind the occasion. In this way we find that the great balancing quality, conscience, whose office is so large and so essential to the higher attributes both of art and life was of a comparatively late growth. When it began to assert itself — when he began to perceive the absolutely beautiful, the divinely appropriate, the infinitely true pervading individual creations, no less than universal entities, he died.

As an instance of this perverted intellect of the man, his obstinate wrong-headedness, we must cite his famous and often-quoted account of the manner in which his poem of the Raven was written. Poe was a man led by his genius more, perhaps, than any man living. He was always talking about his intended modes of action, which were to be of wondrous wisdom — he flirted with his own subtilty [[subtlety]], coaxed up and caressed his own proposed action; he viewed himself at such times from an outside point; discussed himself in the coolest manner, told how he would write, how he would talk, how he would act, and yet when the time came all was quite the reverse.

In this way this account of the Raven is a cruel libel of the intellectual Poe upon the poet Poe. Nobody believes it was so written, but there was a great chasm between the two natures of this man, the impulsive and the intellectual, which he was never able to bridge over. With all the arrogance and conceit of the man, he was not able to do himself justice, from the fact that his intellect always acted by itself, not in harmony with his affections, and he over estimated the one and undervalued the other. He was greater than he knew. He became less than he would have been because of this lack of reverence for the heart-side of himself.

Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe was born in the city of Baltimore [[Boston]], January, 1811 [[1809]]. His father was studying law in Baltimore, when he became fascinated with an English actress named Elizabeth Arnold, with whom he eloped, and afterward married her. It has been asserted that this girl was the [column 2:] daughter of the traitor Arnold — we do not know upon what authority. She seems to have been pretty and vivacious, but nothing more. The husband abandoned the law for the stage, and the two played together perhaps a half dozen years, without acquiring either fame or money, and then died, leaving three children, two of whom fell into total eclipse, for we hear only of Edgar, the second boy.

When death entered the little dim, dingy green-room of the theater and dropped the tinsel curtain forever between this world and the young, wreckless [[reckless]] pair, who left three helpless, uncared-for little ones to the tender mercies of men, which are often only cruelty, a merchant of Richmond, Virginia, by the name of Allen [[Allan]], adopted little Edgar as his own child. He was a spirited, handsome boy, precocious in intellect, and of arrogant, self-willed temper. Here was, certainly, fine material upon which to work — the germs of the scholar or the hero. But nature is stronger than education. We do not believe the blood of father and mother were of the best quality to produce the most reliable results. The excitements and exhaustions of the profession are not favorable to the best maternity — the tawdry accessories of the stage are not the most desirable associations for the growing mind and heart of a young child, who has everything to learn.

Mr. Allen [[Allan]] was childless and wealthy, and it would seem injudiciously indulgent to the boy, yielding quite too much to his arrogance, and far too lenient to his outbreaks of temper. But it must be borne in mind that the young Edgar was living in a society in which spirit is ranked as the test of manliness, where coercion is reserved, like the whip, for the slave only, and where the assertion that “he who ruleth himself is greater than him who taketh a city,” is a musty old fogy view, unbecoming a gentleman.

At length Mr. Allen [[Allan]], tired of the caprices and outrages of the boy-genius, and having married a second time and now become a father, turns him out of doors, without a cent in the world; and so this child of genius, reared in luxury; after having been born in the hot-bed of excitement, with his keen precocious intellect and sensitive nerves, is a houseless beggar.

We know nothing more of this Mr. Allen [[Allan]], except that he died peacefully in his bed after some years of ordinary well-to-do living. We do not care to know more of him. To our eyes he committed a grievous crime. When he had once assumed the responsibility of this boy, it was his duty to carry it through, and to see how the world went with him. After he had denuded ­[page 264:] him by his indulgence, it was the hight [[height]] of cruelty for him to cast him defenseless as he was upon the hard bosses of the world. His biographer gives dark hints as to his conduct at this time, and deals largely and vaguely in intimations too terrible to be divulged. But it must be borne in mind that he was a boy of sixteen, and if this youth had become such a monster, he had been ripened under the very eye of his guardian. Where was the fault?

We have heard the simple-hearted, excellent Mr. White speak of Poe as an “unmitigated rascal.” At the time he was associated with him in the Southern Literary Messenger, Richmond, Virginia, he was little more than nineteen — he was sensitive and laborious, and certainly very greatly deficient in all ideas of human responsibility, for he drank freely, and at such times plunged into deplorable excesses. He seems never to have had moral questions at all presented to his mind, and thus to have lived from year to year, gathering knowledge upon these points as best he could. Is Edgar A. Poe alone in this?

The young poet, without character, without friends, was now for several years driven to his wit’s ends. He had lost his situation with Mr. White — he had serious difficulty with Mr. Burton, the comedian, who published at one time a magazine entitled The Gentleman’s, &c., and who employed Poe as assistant editor; he had been awhile at West Point, a cadet there, where he seems to have been a favorite, and he had even enlisted as a common soldier. All this is very melancholy; we must remember his youth — that he had no resources, that he drove his friends from him by his irregularities, and if he sinned grievously, grievously did he atone for it. His birth and his education were yielding melancholy fruitage.

While in Richmond he married his own cousin, and she a child of fourteen. Here was another error. But let us draw the vail [[veil]] over it, for it produced for him in the person of his aunt, and now mother-in-law, one devoted, untiring and long-suffering friend, without whom his career would have been even sadder than it was.

In all these years of privation, of suffering and distress, Poe was not an idle man. He studied much, and his contributions to the literary world comprise several volumes. They were always original and startling. His somber pictures and intricate machinery have a peculiar fascination which few can resist, while a weird, unearthly light, half angel, half devil, like his own poor self, wrought a wizard spell upon the mind. He obtained several prizes for [column 2:] these, and his articles were generally in demand. Indeed, we all recollect the interest felt in everything emanating from his pen — the relief it was from the dullness of ordinary writers — the certainty of something fresh and suggestive.

His critiques were read with avidity, not that he convinced the judgment, but because people felt their ability and their courage — he took the public idols so by the beard and knocked them right and left, till people saw they were no gods at all but miserable shams. Sometimes he found the genuine and attempted the same process with a cool hardihood; but that is a small pigmy in giant’s armor who does not come out magnified by the blows of an assailant. These critiques of Edgar A. Poe were live productions — he did not play with his pen, but wielded it. Right or wrong, all was real at the time. He was terribly in earnest. He was carried away as by an avalanche of words and emotions. Men and women with their books under their arms marched in grand procession before him, and he discovered the rich goods of one, the thefts of another, the divine art, the heavenly beauty, the profound meanings of some, while others were totally enigmatical, and unrevealed to him.

It must have been in 1842 that Poe first came to reside permanently in New York. He was at once admitted into the literary circles there, where his superior address and remarkable conversational powers at once attracted attention. At that time there was more prestige attached to literature than at present exists. The field is now so over-filled, and the persons of marked genius so comparatively few, that the desire for companionship with literary persons is much less.

At that time, at the houses of Dr. Dewey, Miss Anna C. Lynch, Mr. Lawson, and others, might have been found some of the finest spirits of any age, whose brilliancy entitled them to all the homage they received. It was in these circles that we first met Edgar A. Poe. He had criticised ourself and some others, who could well survive it, very severely, but not entirely ungenerously, and we harbored no malice against him. His wife was at this time much an invalid, and rarely went out, but he was fond of naming her, and dwelling upon her loveliness of character. His manners at these re-unions were refined and pleasing, and his scope of conversation that of the gentleman and the scholar. Whatever may have been his previous career, there was nothing in his look or manner to indicate the debauchee. ­[page 265:]

In contemplating his character through his biographers we cannot overlook what we have seen and known of good import in this man. The question is irresistible. What was the character of the men and women before whom Poe would dare exhibit his grosser sensualism. Men do not rush reeking with impurities into the assemblage of Vestals and Anchorites. Who were these persons, and what their lives, which offered no rebuke to his vices?

That Edgar A. Poe has been much sinned against by the press at large and biographers in particular, is not a subject of doubt; but that he sinned grievously against the laws of good fellowship, and gentle intercourse, cannot be for a moment questioned. He was a child of genius, with little moral training, a high culture and inordinate ambition, thrust upon the world with no defined principles of action, and little or none of those finer instincts which flow from a warm, generous heart. It was melancholy to witness his remarkable intellect combined with so much uncertainty of principle. Indeed, Mr. Poe was utterly helmless in all matters of conscience. A profound selfism, and a reckless disregard for all interests, save those which swayed him and associated him with others for the time being, characterized his whole literary career.

As a poet we cannot place him in the higher ranks, although his wondrous command of a weird, startling vocabulary will always raise his readers to the high, cold realms of the imagination, where we yield instinctively as to a wizard spell. The dainty ring of his chimes, the exquisite sweetness and iterating flow of his numbers can rarely if ever be equaled. When we have said this much, we have said all, for he awakens no hopefulness in the heart, no noble aspirations, only a lone melancholy reminiscence, more painful than beautiful, more sorrowful than dear. We listen as to a dirge, but it is not of mortal sounding; it is as if a lost spirit stood beside some awe-engirdled lake, where funereal manes walk to and fro slowly, and the silence is unbroken even by the waters that kiss the gray pebbles, and there we hear the chant of a deep-toned requiem. Witness the following from a poem entitled a “Dream within a Dream:”

“I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep —

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?” [column 2:]

Here is nothing forced or unnatural — on the contrary the words are simple and few, yet it makes the heart ache.

He was haunted by the dim region of sleep and the mystery of dreams — we find it in his poetry — it hung about his eyes, and imparted a something like mystery to his appearance. He made you think of one weighed by the awe of his own being — like a child who has floated into an unknown realm, and who cannot well open his eyes to read and understand what is before him; he has vague incomprehensible visions of love; undefined yearnings, as the poet must have of love, only love, and he falls back haunted by phantoms. His loves are all ideal — there is no flesh and blood tenderness about them, but a dreamy phantasmagoria of gleaming eyes and angel wings. He says:

“For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

This is as cold and as ideal as the lines of Byron

“She walks in beauty like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of good and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”

The “Raven” is a poem so unique that we accept it unquestioning. We do not ask whether it will abide the hard nib of the critic, but impressed we know not, care not why — we move onward to its stately march, and repeat its melancholy refrain, with a sympathy, challenged we hardly know how. In spite of the foolish manner in which Poe pretends it was written, all for effect, it is probably the most entirely spontaneous production he ever wrote. It is the very expression of this dirge-like quality of his muse. It is greater than he knew. It expresses more than he meant. We know he loved to repeat it himself and hear it spoken of. It was the one poem of which he was himself fond. Once he had been at the theater, at a time when the “Raven” was in everybody’s mouth, and the next day he told the writer of this, that one of the actors interpolated the words “Never more” into his part with startling effect, and the audience recognized and applauded it. This little pardonable piece of egotism was not unpleasing, when we remember how scantily praise was meted out to this man.

We once heard a gentleman, himself a poet, a man of sensibility and all manly attributes, read the Raven with thrilling effect. At the close he remarked: “It is the expression of what we all feel at times in the hard unsatisfactory struggles of life, when we exclaim ‘after all, what’s the use!’ It is the image of despair brooding above all earthly wisdom.” ­[page 266:] Such was the tribute of one generous mind to another.

As a prose writer, we must pronounce Poe’s stories as finished in the highest artistic manner; they are so carefully and artistically completed, that they cease to be fictions, and not being facts, they assume the aspect of a lie. Indeed, Poe believed his own fictions for the time being, or he would have you think so; he became a part of them; he filled up incident, and iterated congruities like a man who is savagely intent upon making you believe him, while underneath he carries a Mephistophilian smile, that cannot be hidden. We have no sympathy with his characters or their surroundings, but he holds us, nevertheless, as the ancient mariner held his victim; we read on with a ghastly interest, we hurry on to the close, we cannot escape him; we are not pleased but fascinated, and that is his power, a sort of serpent-holding which we cannot resist. He was truly a demonized man — a man possessed — in other words a man of genius. He will be remembered when better writers, healthier, and more beneficent are forgotten, for though sometimes incoherent, always morbid, and wreckless [[reckless]] of results, he touched a vein to which all will more or less respond.

As a critic he was bold, startling, pretentious, but utterly unreliable. He praised where it was foolish and false to praise, only because his interest swayed his judgment. More than one writer of little merit has owed a temporary celebrity to the ill-judged laudations of Edgar A. Poe, while with his slashing broad invective he has dealt out his denunciations upon others, which the taste of the public has long since refused to indorse. He was totally dishonest as a critic, not always knowingly so, it may be not at all knowingly; for where the moral sense is defective, men and women are not always well aware of obliquities, fearfully palpable to those of clearer vision. If any old spleen was to be gratified he brought it out without scruple, and in the most out of the way places; but while he did this, he showed up the peculiarities of an author and his defects in a manner not to be mistaken.

He was himself in the highest degree original and unique, hence he could not abide either twattle or plagiarism. Some of his strictures upon these grounds will be long remembered, and by-and-by, when the accounts of certain authors are made up, it will be seen that he was more than three-quarters right. We need now, in this day of mawkish adulation, a critic with a trenchant pen like that of Edgar A. Poe’s. We need an eagle to swoop down upon the noisy [column 2:] brood of geese and crows and jackdaws, to set their feathers fluttering. It was a sad day that took Edgar A. Poe out of the world of letters, just at the time when his powers were ripening, his judgment maturing, and we believe, and we speak not unadvisedly, his deeper and better intimations assuming shape and urgency. Though late, that part of his character was rapidly developing.

His marriage had been, as we have said, pre-mature, to a cousin of his, a sweet, stag-eyed girl, who devoted herself to him in the same way that she would have devoted herself to a greyhound or any other handsome pet, but who could add little to his mental or moral growth. We have always regarded this marriage as an unfortunate one for the poet, who needs a more profound sympathy always, if he would sound the depths of his own genius. That he loved her tenderly none will deny, and some of his sweetest lyrics owed their inspiration to her delicious eyes and girlish affection. She was his playmate, his pretty child-wife, for she was but fourteen at the time of her marriage.

Later in life, after the death of this child-wife, Mr[[.]] Poe became greatly attached to a lady of rare genius and deep spiritualism. The engagement was broken off, perhaps wisely on the part of the lady. A story is in circulation to the purport that Poe, repenting of the engagement, visited the lady in a state of intoxication, in the hope her disgust would release him. We do not place any reliance whatever upon the motive of this visit. That he might have visited her in this unfortunate state is more than possible, and that such might have been the consequence also, but that it was from no such design upon the part of the unfortunate poet we are equally confident. He may have talked wildly and in unmanly wise after such result, but it was nothing more than the wreckless [[reckless]] language of a child who has marred some precious work. He found here, as well as elsewhere, persons ready to listen to the wild mortified language of genius, and to go away and report it, but the better soul of Poe disclaimed it altogether.

One of his most touching and significant poems was addressed to this lady, and we are happy to say she, who was so well able to read and understand the true soul of a poet, despite of all that may mar the harmony of its demonstrations, has not failed to cherish tenderly his memory. She is worthy of the “Lines to Helen.”

He was, it is said, treacherous to women, while at the same time they felt his irresistible fascinations. It is time this miserable cant ­[page 267:] were ended. Women of elevation and nobleness are not apt to compromise themselves. It is said letters anonymously written by their authors were found with the real name indorsed to the hand writing of Edgar A. Poe. If this be true, it is a burning shame to manhood, and if, as it is asserted, these letters are in the hands of a certain reverend biographer, which he holds in his own hands in terrorism over the parties, the act should be branded with the odium it deserves. It should be remembered that a man who would indorse the name of a woman upon a communication which she had seen fit to render anonymous, would be just as likely to indorse a false as a true name. He is not to be trusted in any respect.

And here we wish to say that the inordinate desire evinced by biographers to drag the relations of the sexes from the obscurity in which they have modestly chosen to enshroud them, and spread abroad names and persons, sacred to God and love, is a gross and reprehensible act. Lewes, in his recent life of Goethé, while he palliates the vices and strives to cover over the moral obliquities of the great man, is wholly unscrupulous in the use he makes of the names and the reputations of the women who became in any way associated with his career. In this respect he has exhibited not only a lack of delicacy, but of justice also. Women must correct this phase of literature, they must teach authors to ignore the relations of the sexes in their biographies, or to remember that abstractly moral delinquencies are no more venal in the one sex than the other.

For ourselves, we do not believe that Poe was ever the all-subduing man to the sex which the vanity of some and the falsehood of others have sought to represent him. It should be borne in mind that always there is something arbitrary in these things — the great laws of God are always stronger in all persons, than any mere act of volition. A man may be as desirous to please, and as unprincipled in his action as it is possible to conceive; he may regard every woman as only so much human aliment to his vanity or his voluptuousness, and yet over and above all this wrecklessness [[recklessness]] on his part he must have certain genuine qualities which inspire confidence and engage the affections no less than those which excite the fancy.

Now it is well known that Edgar A. Poe was an adroit and elegant flatterer. His language was refined, and abounded in the finer shades of poetry and those touches of romance so captivating to the womanly character. He was always deferential — he paid a compliment to the [column 2:] understanding of a woman no less than to her personal charms. He had an exquisite perception of all the graces of manner and the shades of expression. He was an admiring listener — an unobtrusive observer, and delighted in the society of the superior of the sex. If there were ever exceptions to this — if ever Poe presented oblations upon an inferior shrine it must be imputed to his poverty for the time being, which left him no choice, for instinctively he sought only the loveliest and best.

In saying this we do not mean to assert more than was due to him; but now to our point of distinction. Women, however their vanity may be flattered by the attentions of a poet, and however much the admiration of such may win a certain superficial response, are never deeply affected except by that which is wholly and entirely genuine. The true heart responds only to the true. Of the myriad of little loves which have made up the experience of the world, not one in a million is of magnitude sufficient to be in any way note-worthy. Made up of the irregular demonstrations of the mind as they are, by vanity, selfishness and spleen, to trumpet them before the world, to talk of them, revive names and characters doomed to perpetual obscurity, is a piece of foolish malice, or unjustifiable scandal, as weak as it is petty and wicked.

Now Edgar A. Poe had one radical defect of character, which large-minded and large-hearted persons will at once comprehend. He never inspired confidence. There was that something which lawyers call malice prepense, not to be mistaken in him. He always seemed to have a design, to be acting a part. This a woman of penetration never forgives. It is an insult to her womanhood which she resents for herself as well as her sex. No woman with a particle of self-respect encounters this in a man without an invincible repugnance, and therefore we assert that Poe might be a bad man to frivolous or intriguing women, but dangerous to no others, and unfortunately society affords but too many facilities for the practice of intrigue and deception.

In person Poe was of medium hight [[height]], slender and refined in organization. Nature designed this man little lower than an angel, for his exquisite machinery rebelled at any and every violation of the laws of his creation. He should have respected these laws. Delicate, almost as a fine woman, he had no aptitude for the life of the debauchee, and those who willfully and wrecklessly [[reckless]] led this man into the habits of dissipation, knowing his infirmity, were guilty of a crime. It is not enough to say that people ­[page 268:] must take care of themselves; there are myriads of these incapable of this, and therefore it is the duty of the strong to help the weak. We have been told that it was an amusement in some quarters for persons to present Poe with wine for no purpose but to watch its effect upon his sensitive nerves. This was nothing less than devilish, for it took little to move him from his proprieties.

We remember to have once heard a Philadelphian, himself a poet, describe Poe in this aspect. To him it was amusing — to us most painful. He remarked that, “the real contempt which Poe felt for his cotemporaries came out at once under the influence of the wine cup, and he ridiculed, satyrized, imitated and abused them right and left without mercy.” We did not think the presence of such a stimulent [[stimulant]] at all necessary for such a development; for the bearing of the man at all times, the curl of his lip, the cold sarcasm, the covert smile, each and all told of a man who measured himself with his fellows, only to feel his own superiority And why should he not?

Yes, we repeat, why should he not? We must and will speak of this man, not as he manifested himself to the world, but by the measure of his intimations, by his own estimate of himself, which is a truer mode of judgment than the world knows. Yes, this man knew what was in himself, and this it was that sustained him through all the perplexities and disheartenments of poverty, and all the abuse heaped upon him by the cruelty and malice of his enemies, and it was this knowledge which should have redeemed him from his vices and his faults while living, and must redeem his memory from much that has fallen upon it.

We remember to have once heard him say with touching pathos — and we saw then and there the face and the soul of a true child of genius while he spoke the words — “Had I known Mrs. W. and Mrs. — (floating two literary women of his acquaintance) sooner, I should have been very different from what I have been. I am fond of the society of women — poets always are; and I have found enough to play into my foibles and palliate my defects; but these true women, with their superior intellect and deep spiritualism, would have transformed my whole life into something better.”

The remark has force in more ways than one. It indicates the sincerity of regret which the man must have felt in view of the past, and is also a fine tribute to the angel-mission of woman. This was uttered but a few weeks before his death, when his last work, Eureka, upon which [column 2:] he had expended much thus and thought, was beginning to attract some attention. He had expected more. He had thought this deep utterance of a poetic soul would be hailed as a revelation, and his chagrin was not to be concealed. He was ill at ease at this time. He felt his best life had not been realized. He was always grave, now he was melancholy. Circumstances painful and mortifying had transpired, and he reviewed them with grief. We will leave him here to Him who knoweth the thoughts and the intents of the heart. The writer of this recalls this last interview with him as perhaps one of his last best expressions. Little did either suppose the grave was so soon to hide all that was mortal in him from human sight. Peace to bill ashes.

Not long before his death he was cruelly beaten, blow upon blow, by a ruffian who knew of no better mode of avenging supposed injuries. It is well known that a brain fever followed — that he left New York precipitately — that he reached Baltimore, the city of his nativity, and there died on the fourth of October, 1849.

The hand should be palsied, and the name blighted, of the man who, under any provocation, could inflict a blow upon a slender, helpless, intellectual being, however misguided, like Edgar A. Poe.

We perceive from various journals that a movement is being made to raise a monument to the memory of the poet. Let it be done. Let his name be perpetuated as a man of wonderful genius — not the greatest, not the truest — but as one who must not be forgotten — as one who serves to point out the needs of the poet, the force of his inspiration — his, child-like simplicity, his infirmities, and his strength.



In the original printing, the article is followed by the full text of Poe’s story “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” It is prefaced by the brief statement: “We subjoin the following story as a specimen of the prose writings of this poet.”

The editor of the United States Magazine was Seba Smith, the husband of Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith. Although the article is unsigned, her authorship is certain based on repeated material from other articles that were printed with her name as author.

The gentleman and Poet “of sensibility and all manly attributesn” was Charles Fenno Hoffman, idetnified in Mrs. Smith's 1876 article in the Home Journal. The unnamed “Mrs. W. and Mrs. —” were Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman and Mrs. Frances Sargeant Osgood.


[S:1 - USM, 1857] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (E. O. Smith, 1857)