EDGAR A. POE.
Mr. POE was born in
Baltimore, in January, 1811. At an early age he lost both of his
parents, and was adopted into the family of Mr. Allan, a wealthy
gentleman of Virginia, who in 1816 placed him in a school near London,
at which he was fitted for college. He returned to America in 1822, and
in 1825 entered the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville, then
under the presidency of Dr. Dunglison. After a course of dissipation
and extravagance, followed by reformation near the end of his term, he
graduated, with the first honours of his class; but upon the refusal of
Mr. Allan to pay some of his "debts of honour" he abandoned his
half-formed plans of life, and suddenly left the country to take a part
as a volunteer in the Greek revolution. When he reached St.
Petersburgh, however, on his way to Athens, he found both his money and
enthusiasm quite exhausted, and gladly availed himself of the
assistance of the late Mr. Henry Middleton, of South Carolina, then our
minister in Russia, to return home. In 1829 he entered the Military
Academy at West Point, but for some reason did not long remain there;
and Mr. Allan dying soon after, without making any provision for him in
his will, he committed himself for support to authorship, founding his
hopes of success in part upon the favourable reception given to a small
volume of poems published by him in the sixteenth or seventeenth year
of his age, which in the minds of good judges excited high expectations
of his future distinction. The contents of this volume have recently
been reprinted, with his later poems, and though fragmentary, and
shadowy, some of them are highly imaginative and graceful, and they
awaken regrets that events have prevented the author from making at any
time more serious efforts "in what under more
favourable circumstances would have been the field of his choice."
In 1834 the proprietor of a weekly paper in
Baltimore offered two premiums, one for the best prose story and one
for the best poem that within a specified time should be submitted to a
committee of literary men who had [column 2:] consented to act
in his behalf. This committee, at the head of which was Mr. John P.
Kennedy, awarded both to Mr. Poe, and in publishing their decision took
occasion to mention him in a very flattering manner. The accession of
reputation which he thus acquired led to his engagement by the late Mr.
Thomas White, as associate editor of the Southern Literary Messenger,
printed at Richmond, in which city he resided from this time until he
went to Philadelphia to edit the Gentleman's Magazine, which I think
was in 1838. Here he published, in 1839, in two volumes, his Tales of
the Grotesque and the Arabesque, and his nautical romance, entitled
Arthur Gordon Pym, appeared soon after in New York. The first had less
success than it deserved, and the last much less merit than might have
been anticipated by those who were familiar with his shorter stories.
Mr. Poe remained several years in Philadelphia, employed chiefly in
writing for the magazines, and in 1844 removed to New York, where he
was for some time editor of The Broadway Journal, a weekly literary
gazette. Here he has recently published a volume of Tales, and The
Raven and other Poems.
It is as a writer of tales that Mr. Poe has most
reputation, and some of his productions of this sort exhibit
extraordinary metaphysical acuteness, and an imagination. that delights
to dwell in the shadowy confines of human experience, among the abodes
of crime, gloom and horror. A subtle power of analysis is his
distinguishing characteristic, and the minuteness of detail and
refinement of reasoning which he frequently displays in the anatomy of
mystery give to his most improbable inventions a wonderful reality. In
his delineation every colour is applied with discrimination, and in his
narrative every movement tends with inevitable certainty to the end.
The analytical subtlety and the singular skill shown in the management
of revolting and terrible circumstances in The Murders of the Rue
Morgue produced a deep impression, and made this story perhaps the most
popular that Mr. [page 524:] Poe has written. An equal degree
of intellectual acuteness marks The Gold Bug and The Purloined Letter,
which are more pleasing and scarcely less interesting. The Fall of the
House of Usher is characterized by a sombre beauty of style, and is an
instance of the power with which he paints a disease of the mind. The
Descent into the Maelström, and Mesmeric Revelation may be
mentioned as the most original, ingenious and forcible of the other
tales included in the volume which he published in 1845.*
To Mr. Poe's poems allusion has already [column
2:] been made. The Raven* is imaginative and
spiritual, and shows in the most favourable light his artistic skill.
This and many of the minor pieces are pervaded by a touching sadness,
and they are all more or less indicative of his habits of dreamy
In criticism, although he is ingenious, clear and
forcible, he has shown little independence and little power of rising
above the consideration of the individual subject to general
principles. His chief skill lies in the dissection of sentences.
resides in New York.