Bits and Pieces I —
Selected Quotations from the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe


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The following excerpts are taken from Poe’s diverse writings, including a few unusual items. They are listed chronologically, with the source noted as appropriate.


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“If you determine to abandon me — here take I my farewell — Neglected — I will be doubly ambitious, & the world shall hear of the son whom you have thought unworthy of your notice.” — (From a letter to John Allan, Dec. 22, 1828. Allan was Poe’s foster-father. Their relationship, apparently always rather strained, would improve slightly then deteriorate completely over the next several years. This letter is addressed “Dear Sir,” although later ones begin “Dear Pa.”)

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“I am young — not yet twenty — am a poet — if deep worship of all beauty can make me one — and wish to be so in the common meaning of the word. I would give the world to embody one half the ideas afloat in my imagination.” — (From a letter to John Neal, probably Oct.   Nov. 1829.)

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“I have . . . for the metaphysical poets [William Wordsworth, etc.], as poets, the most sovereign contempt. That they have followers proves nothing . . . .” — (From the introductory Letter to Mr. — —” from Poems, 1831, reprinted as “Letter to B—” in the Southern Literary Messenger, July 1836. “B—” is probably Elam Bliss, the New York publisher who printed Poe’s 1831 volume of Poems.)

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“The most remarkable feature in this production is the bad paper on which it is printed, and the typographical ingenuity with which matter barely enough for one volume has been spread over the pages of two . . .” — (From a review of Laughton Osborn’s Confessions of A Poet, the Southern Literary Messenger, April 1835.)

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“A word or two in relation to Berenice. Your opinion of it is very just. The subject is by far too horrible, and I confess that I hesitated in sending it [to] you especially as a specimen of my capabilities. The Tale originated in a bet that I could produce nothing effective on a subject so singular, provided I treated it seriously. . . . The history of all Magazines shows plainly that those which have attained celebrity were indebted for it to articles similar in nature — to Berenice — although, I grant you, far superior in style and execution. I say similar in nature. You ask me in what does this nature consist? In the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque; the fearful coloured into the horrible; the witty exaggerated into the burlesque; the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical. You may say all this is bad taste. . . . But whether the articles of which I speak are, or are not in bad taste is little to the purpose. To be appreciated you must be read, and these things are invariably sought after with avidity.” — (From a letter to Thomas W. White, April 30, 1835. White was the owner and editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, in which Poe’s tale “Berenice” appeared as part of the issue for March of 1835.)

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“Well! — here we have it! This is the book — the book par excellence — the book bepuffed, beplastered, and be-Mirrored: the book ‘attributed to’ Mr. Blank, and ’said to be from the pen’ of Mr. Asterisk: the book which has been ‘about to appear’ — ‘in the press’ — ‘in progress’ — ‘in preparation’ — and ‘forthcoming:’ the book ‘graphic’ in anticipation — ‘talented’ a prior — and God knows what in prospectus. For the sake of every thing puffed, puffing, and puffable, let us take a peep at its contents. . . . Thus ends the Tale of the Present Times, and thus ends the most inestimable piece of balderdash with which the common sense of the good people of America was ever so openly or so villainously insulted. We do not mean to say that there is positively nothing in Mr. Fay’s novel to commend — but there is indeed very little. . . . [after quoting several sections from the book, prominently featuring the word ‘blistering‘] Here we have a blistering detail, a blistering truth, a blistering story, and a blistering brand, to say nothing of innumerable other blisters interspersed throughout the book. But we have done with Norman Leslie, — if ever we saw as silly a thing, may we be —— blistered.” — (From a review of Theodore S. Fay’s Norman Leslie: A Tale of the Present Times, in the Southern Literary Messenger, December 1835. Fay was an associate editor of the New-York Mirror, and he never forgot, nor forgave, Poe’s criticism.)

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“For the occasional philosophy of Balcombe himself, we must not, of course, hold the author responsible.” — (From Poe’s review of George Balcombe, in the Southern Literary Messenger, January 1837.)

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“The first thing requisite [in writing an article in the style of Blackwood’s Magazine] is to get yourself into such a scrape as no one ever got into before. The oven, for instance, — that was a good hit. But if you have no oven, or big bell, at hand, and if you cannot conveniently tumble out of a balloon, or be swallowed up in an earthquake, or get stuck fast in a chimney, you will have to be contented with simply imagining some similar misadventure.” — (Mr. Blackwood advising the Signora Psyche Zenobia in Poe’s satirical tale “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” Baltimore American Museum, November 1838.)

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“It may be urged, too, that the more frivolous the character of that which engages so much of our attention, and occupies so vast a portion of our time, the more imperious seems the necessity of its rigid investigation.” — (From the essay “American Novel-Writing,” Literary Examiner and Western Monthly Review, August 1839, p. 317.)

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“There are one or two of the articles here, (conceived and executed in the purest spirit of extravaganza,) to which I expect no serious attention, and of which I shall speak no farther. But for the rest I cannot conscientiously claim indulgence on the score of hasty effort. I think it best becomes me to say, therefore, that if I have sinned, I have deliberately sinned. These brief compositions are, in chief part, the result of matured purpose and very careful elaboration.” — (From the Preface” to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, December 1839.)

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“It is an evil growing out of our republican institutions, that here a man of large purse has usually a very little soul which he keeps in it.” — (From the essay “The Philosophy of Furniture,” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1840.)

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“They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” — (From the short story “Eleonora,” The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1842, 1841.)

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“Upon the whole we think the ‘Curiosity Shop’ very much the best of the works by Mr. Dickens. It is scarcely possible to speak of it too well. It is in all respects a tale which will secure for its author the enthusiastic admiration of every man of genius.” — (From a review of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, Graham’s Magazine, May 1841.)

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“Few persons can be made to believe that it is not quite an easy thing to invent a method of secret writing which shall baffle investigation. Yet it may be roundly asserted that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve.” — (From the essay “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” Graham’s Magazine, July 1841.)

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“To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is to my thinking, the hardest task in the world.” — (From a letter to F. W. Thomas, July 4, 1841.)

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“But now it appears that we had worked out our own destruction in the perversion of our taste, or rather in the blind neglect of its culture in the schools.” — (From the tale “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” Graham’s Magazine, August 1841.)

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“His poems have not been condemned, only because they have never been read. . . . The laudation of the unworthy is to the worthy the most bitter of all wrong.” — (From the article “Rufus Dawes — A Retrospective Criticism,” Graham’s Magazine, October 1842.)

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“Never sing the Nine so well as when penniless.” — (From the article “Our Amateur Poets — Flaccus [Thomas Ward],” Graham’s Magazine, March 1843. Here, Poe is referring to the nine Muses of Greek mythology.)

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“His [Channing’s] book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems. . . . They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all.” — (From the article “Our Amateur Poets — William Ellery Channing,” Grahams’s Magazine, August 1843.)

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“Experience has shown, and Philosophy will always show, that a vast portion, perhaps the larger portion of truth, arises from the apparently irrelevant.” — (From the article “Doings of Gotham - [Letter VI]” from the Columbia Spy, June 18, 1844. Reprinted by Jacob E. Spannuth and T. O. Mabbott, Doings of Gotham: Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to The Columbia Spy, Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Spannuth, 1929, p. 66.)

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“You can get into a difficulty gratis, at any time, but it requires twenty-five cents to get into a cab.” — (From the article “A Moving Chapter [The Omnibus]” from the Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 18, 1844. Reprinted by Jacob E. Spannuth and T. O. Mabbott, Doings of Gotham: Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to The Columbia Spy, Pottsville, Pennsylvania: Spannuth, 1929, p. 83.)

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“You speak of ‘an estimate of my life’ — and, from what I have already said, you will see that I have none to give. I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and evanescence of temporal things, to give any continuous effort to anything — to be consistent in anything. My life has been whim — impulse — passion — a longing for solitude — a scorn of all things present, in an earnest desire for the future. I am profoundly excited by music, and by some poems — those of Tennyson especially. . . .” — (From a letter to James R. Lowell, July 2, 1844.)

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“I disagree with you in what you say of man’s advance towards perfection. Man is now only more active, not wiser, nor more happy, than he was 6000 years ago.” — (From a letter to Dr. Thomas H. Chivers, July 10, 1844. The same sentiment is repeated in Poe’s July 2, 1844 letter to J. R. Lowell.)

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“The one great difficulty resulting from this course [writing for magazines], is that I am judged by individual papers. Unless the journalist collects his various articles he is liable to be grossly misconceived & misjudged by men of whose good opinion he would be proud but who see, perhaps, only a paper here & there, by accident, — often only one of his mere extravaganzas, written to supply a particular demand.” — (From a letter to Professor Charles Anthon, probably late October, 1844. As the letter itself has been lost, this excerpt is reconstructed here, with some interpretation, from Poe’s surviving draft.)

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“Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.” — (From the “Preface” to The Raven and Other Poems, 1845.)

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“Now we do not mean to assert that, by excessive ‘tension’ of intellect, a reader accustomed to the cant of the transcendentalists (or of those who degrade an ennobling philosophy by styling themselves such) may not succeed in ferreting from the passages quoted, and indeed from each of the  thousand similar ones throughout the book, something that shall bear the aspect of an absolute idea — but we do mean to say first, that, in nine cases out of ten, the thought when dug out will be found very poorly to repay the labor of the digging; — for it is the nature of thought in general, as it is in the nature of some ores in particular, to be richest when most superficial. And we do mean to say, secondly, that, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the reader will suffer the most valuable ore to remain unmined to all eternity, before he will be put to the trouble of digging for it one inch. And we do mean to assert, thirdly, that no reader is to be condemned for not putting himself to the trouble of digging even the one inch; for no writer has the right to impose such necessity upon him. What is worth thinking is distinctly thought; what is distinctly thought, can and should be distinctly expressed, or should not be expressed at all.” — (From a review of Miss Barrett’s “The Drama of Exile,” the Broadway Journal, January 4, 1845. Here, Poe seems to endorse the idea that his stories may be read purely for entertainment, without concern for any deeper truths.)

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“‘The Raven’ has had a great ‘run,’ Thomas — but I wrote it for the express purpose of running — just as I did the ‘Gold-Bug‘, you know. The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow.” — (From a letter to F. W. Thomas, May 4, 1845.)

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“Let a man succeed ever so evidently — ever so demonstrably — in many different displays of genius, the envy of criticism will agree with the popular voice in denying him more than talent in any. . . . Because universal or even versatile geniuses have rarely or never been known, therefore, thinks the world, none such can ever be.” — (From the second installment of “Fifty Suggestions,” Graham’s Magazine, June 1845.)

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“The great opponent to Progress is Conservatism. In other words — the great adversary of Invention is Imitation: the propositions are in spirit identical. Just as an art is imitative, is it stationary.” — (From the article on “The American Drama,” American Review, August 1845.)

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“True criticism is the reflection of the thing criticised upon the spirit of the critic.” — (From the essay “American Poetry,” The Aristidean, November 1845, p. 380. This statement is repeated from Poe’s 1839 essay on “American Novel-Writing,” from the Literary Examiner and Western Monthly Review.)

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“Mr. Hudson, in his Shakspeare [sic] Lectures here, last winter, had the misfortune to put people unaccustomed to the operation, to the trouble of thinking — an annoyance which a certain class never forgets.” — (From the Broadway Journal, November 22, 1845. Later comments show that Poe himself was far less than impressed by Hudson.)

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“When . . . is this most melancholy of topics [death] most poetical? . . . When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world. . . .” — (From the essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Graham’s Magazine, April 1846.)

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“Mr. Briggs has never composed in his life three consecutive sentences of grammatical English. . . . His conversation has now and then the merit of humour, but he has a perfect mania for contradiction, and it is impossible to utter an uninterrupted sentence in his hearing.” — (From the notice of Charles F. Briggs [Harry Franco] in Poe’s series on “The Literati of New York City,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, June 1846.)

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“Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems, and — I forgive him. . . . Mr. C. [Lewis Gaylord Clark], as a literary man, has about him no determinateness, no distinctiveness, no saliency of point; — an apple, in fact, or a pumpkin, has more angles. . . . he is noticeable for nothing in the world except the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing.” — (From the notice of Lewis Gaylord Clark in Poe’s series on “The Literati of New York City,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1846. For the comments about Clark’s lack of “determinateness,” Poe repeated an almost identical sentiment in his “Marginalia” from the Southern Literary Messenger for June of 1849.)

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“These tales of ratiocination [“Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”] owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say they are not ingenious — but people think they are more ingenious than they are — on account of their method and air of method. . . . Where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling?” — (From a letter to Philip Pendleton Cooke, August 9, 1846.)

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“It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have the power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about ‘Appalachia.’ In the first place, it is distinctive. ‘America’ is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to use it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is ‘America‘, and will insist upon remaining so. . . . I yet hope to find ‘Appalachia’ assumed.” — (From “Marginalia” installment IX, Graham’s Magazine, December 1846.)

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“To the few who love me and whom I love — to those who feel rather than to those who think — to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities — I offer this Book of Truths. . . . What I here propound is true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will ‘rise again to the Life Everlasting.’ Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.” — (From the “Preface” to Eureka, 1848.)

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“My general proposition, then, is this: — In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation.” — (From Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe, 1848.)

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“A task may be more or less difficult; but it is either possible or not possible: — there are no gradations. It might be more difficult to overthrow the Andes than an ant-hill; but it can be no more impossible to annihilate the matter of the one than the matter of the other. A man may jump ten feet with less difficulty than he can jump twenty, but the impossibility of his leaping to the moon is not a whit less than that of his leaping to the dog-star.” — (From Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe, 1848.)

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“And you ask me why men so misjudge me — why I have enemies. If your knowledge of my character and of my career does not afford you an answer to the query, at least it does not become me to suggest the answer. Let it suffice that I have had the audacity to remain poor that I might preserve my independence — that, nevertheless, in letters, to a certain extent and in certain regards, I have been “successful” — that I have been a critic — and unscrupulously honest and no doubt in many cases a bitter one — that I have uniformly attacked — where I attacked at all — those who stood highest in power and influence — and that, whether in literature or in society, I have seldom refrained from expressing, either directly or indirectly, the pure contempt with which the pretensions of ignorance, arrogance, or imbecility inspire me. — And you who know all this — you ask me why I have enemies. Ah, Helen, I have a hundred friends for every individual enemy — but has it never occurred to you that you do not live among my friends?” — (From a letter to Sarah Helen Whitman, October 18, 1848.)

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“Each person, in his own estimate, is the pivot on which all the rest of the world spins round.” — (From a review of J. R. Lowell’s “A Fable for Critics,” Southern Literary Messenger, March 1849)

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“The manner in which the cabal of the ‘North American Review’ first write all our books and then review them, puts me in mind of the fable about the Lion and the Painter. It is high time that the literary South took its own interests into its own charge.” — (From “Marginalia” installment XIII, the Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849.) (The meaning of the fable mentioned by Poe is that the depiction of truth often depends heavily on the perspective of the person telling it.)

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“I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. Thus he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind — that he would be considered a madman, is evident.” — (From “Marginalia” installment XV, the Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.)

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“It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” — (From “Marginalia” installment XV, the Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.)

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“The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.” — (From “Marginalia” installment XV, the Southern Literary Messenger, June 1849.)

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“The struggle to apprehend the supernal Loveliness — this struggle, on the part of souls fittingly constituted — has given the world all that which it (the world) has ever been enabled at once to understand and to feel as poetic.” — (From the essay “The Poetic Principle,” Works, 1850.)


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Bibliography:

The following items reprint works from which many of these selections were taken

  • Ostrom, John Ward, ed., The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Gordian Press, 1966.
  • Pollin, Burton R., ed. The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2 - The Brevities, (Including “Marginalia,” “Fifty Suggestions,” etc.), New York: Gordian Press, 1985 and Volume 3 - Writings in the “Broadway Journal”: Nonfictional Prose, Part I, the Text, New York: Gordian Press, 1986.
  • Spannuth, Jacob E. and T. O. Mabbott, Doings in Gotham: Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to The Columbia Spy, Pottsville, Pennsylvania.: Jacob E. Spannuth, 1929. (Reprints Poe’s seven letters, printed as “Doings in Gotham” in The Columbia Spy in 1844 as well as additional material, including some items from the Philadelphia Public Ledger. With the exception of the “Doings in Gotham” letters, the attributions made here are not necessarily considered definitive.)
  • Thompson, G. Richard, ed. Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews, The Library of America, 1984.

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[S:1 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - General Topics - Bits and Pieces I (Selected Quotations from the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe)