Text: George E. Woodberry, “Chapter VI,” Edgar Allan Poe (1885), pp. 201-277


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[page 201]

CHAPTER VI.
 
IN NEW YORK.

POE’S account of his departure is given in a let ter to Mrs. Clemm, which stands by itself in his correspondence as of a purely domestic kind, illustrative of life within doors, and (the more forcibly by its indirectness) of the penury to which at times the family was accustomed. Its confiding and familiar tone explains somewhat, too, how he won the devotion of his mother-in-law to that degree which has secured for her the admiration of all who were intimately acquainted with Poe’s home life.

{NEW YORK, Sunday Morning,

{April 7, just after breakfast.

MY DEAR MUDDY,

We have just this minute done breakfast, and I now sit down to write you about everything. I can‘t pay for the letter, because the P. O. won‘t be open to-day. In the first place we arrived safe at Walnut St. wharf. The driver wanted to make me pay a dollar, but I would n‘t. Then I had to pay a boy a levy to put the trunks in the baggage car. In the meantime I took Sis [Virginia] in the Depôt Hotel. It was only a quarter past six, and we had to wait till seven. We saw the Ledger and Times — nothing in either — a few words of no account [page 202] in the Chronicle. We started in good spirits, but did not get here until nearly three o clock. We went in the cars to Amboy, about forty miles from N. York, and then took the steamboat the rest of the way. Sissy coughed none at all. When we got to the wharf it was raining hard. I left her on board the boat, after putting the trunks in the Ladies cabin, and set off to buy an umbrella and look for a boarding-house. I met a man selling umbrellas, and bought one for twenty-five cents. Then I went up Greenwich St. and soon found a boarding house. It is just before you get to Cedar St., on the west side going up — the left-hand side. It has brown stone steps, with a porch with brown pillars. “Morrison” is the name on the door. I made a bargain in a few minutes and then got a hack and went for Sis. I was not gone more than half an hour, and she was quite astonished to see me back so soon. She didn‘t expect me for an hour. There were two other ladies waiting on board — so she was n‘t very lonely. When we got to the house we had to wait about half an hour before the room was ready. The house is old and looks buggy [The letter is cut here for the signature on the other side.] the cheapest board I ever knew, taking into consideration the central situation and the living. I wish Kate [Catterina, the cat] could see it — she would faint. Last night, for supper, we had the nicest tea you ever drank, strong and hot wheat bread and rye bread — cheese — tea-cakes (elegant), a great dish (two dishes) of elegant ham, and two of cold veal, piled up like a mountain and large slices — three dishes of the cakes and everything in the greatest profusion. No fear of starving here. The landlady seemed as if she [page 203:] could n‘t press us enough, and we were at home directly. Her husband is living with her — a fat, good-natured old soul. There are eight or ten boarders — two or three of them ladies — two servants. For breakfast we had excellent-flavored coffee, hot and strong — not very clear and no great deal of cream — veal cutlets, elegant ham and eggs and nice bread and butter. I never sat down to a more plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the eggs and the great dishes of meat. I ate the first hearty breakfast I have eaten since I left our little home. Sis is delighted, and we are both in excellent spirits. She has coughed hardly any and had no night sweat. She is now busy mending my pants which I tore against a nail. I went out last night and bought a skein of silk, a skein of thread, two buttons, a pair of slippers, and a tin pan for the stove. The fire kept in all night. We have now got four dollars and a half left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three dollars, so that I may have a fortnight to go upon. I feel in excellent spirits, and have n t drank a drop — so that I hope soon to get out of trouble. The very instant I scrape together enough money I will send it on. You can‘t imagine how much we both do miss you. Sissy had a hearty cry last night, because you and Catterina were n‘t here. We are re solved to get two rooms the first moment we can. In the mean time it is impossible we could be more comfort able or more at home than we are. It looks as if it were going to clear up now. Be sure and go to the P. O. and have my letters forwarded. As soon as I write Lowell’s article, I will send it to you, and get you to get the money from Graham. Give our best love to C. [Signature cut out.] [page 204:]

Be sure and take home the “Messenger” to Hirst.

We hope to send for you very soon.(1)

The postscript of this letter, — “Be sure and take home the Messenger to Hirst,” — though a matter of the most trifling detail, is worth explanation, since the circumstance to which it relates is yet remembered to Poe’s discredit in Philadelphia, while the whole paltry affair furnishes a capital illustration of the mean though natural misconstruction to which he was sometimes exposed. The story is completely told in the following papers. Willis Duane, to whom the letters are addressed, was at one time Secretary of the Treasury.

NEW YORK, Oct. 28, 44.

MY DEAR SIR,

Owing to my absence from this city, (where I am now residing) I did not receive your letter of the 15th until this morning.

I regret exceedingly that circumstances should have led you to think me negligent, or uncourteous, in not returning the volume of the “Messenger” — for one or the other (perhaps both) you must long since have considered me. The facts are these: Some eight months ago, I believe, I chanced to mention, in Mr. Hirst’s hearing, that I wished to look over a particular article in the “Messenger.” He immediately volunteered to procure me the desired volume from you. I would much rather have borrowed it personally — but he seemed to make a point of the matter and I consented. Soon afterwards he handed me the book, which I retained a very short [page 205:] time. It is now certainly more than seven months since I returned it to Mr. Hirst, through my mother-in-law (Mrs. Clemm) who informs me that she left it at his office, with one of his brothers. Most probably it was deposited in a book-case, and thus overlooked and for gotten. May I trouble you to send for it.

Very truly yours,

EDGAR ALLAN POE.

WILLIS [[WILLIAM]] DUANE, ESQR.

Endorsed by Duane: N. B. The statement contained in this letter that the volume of “The Southern Literary Messenger” in question was returned to Henry B. Hirst, Esqr. was pronounced by Mr. Hirst to be “a damned lie,” and subsequent events showed that Mr. Hirst was right in denying it — Mr. Poe having sold the book — I hope unintentionally — to William A. Leary, the bookseller on Second St.

W. D.

NEW YORK, Jan. 28, 45.

SIR,

Richmond is the last place in which I should have hoped to find a copy of either the 1st, 2d, or 3d volumes of the “Messenger.” For this reason I did not apply there. I have [been] putting myself, however, to some trouble in endeavoring to collect among my friends here the separate numbers of the missing volume. I am glad that your last letter relieves me from all such trouble in future. I do not choose to recognize you in this matter at all. To the person of whom I borrowed the book, or rather who insisted on forcing it on me, I have sufficient reason to believe that it was returned. Settle your difficulties [page 206:] with him, and insult me with no more of your communications.

EDGAR A. POE.

MR. DUANE.

Endorsed by Duane: Bombastes Furioso Poe. Dated January 28, 1845. Received January 31, 1845. Not to be answered. N. B. The volume of “The Southern Literary Messenger” to which this letter, and that of October 28, 1844, refer, was lent by me to E. A. Poe, through Henry B. Hirst, Esq., and was sold by the said Poe among a lot of books belonging to himself to William A. Leary, a bookseller on North Seventh Street. Mr. Leary sold it to a bookseller in Richmond, Va., who sold it to the publishers of the “Messenger,” who sold it to a friend of mine who was visiting Richmond, and whom I had commissioned to purchase me a copy. My name was on the title page during all these sales.

Poe had the grace to be ashamed of himself, when he heard of the manner in which I had had to repurchase my own book. He remarked to H. B. Hirst, Esqr., “What must Mr. Duane think of me,” on hearing of which, I sent him word that I thought he ought to send me the five dollars which the repurchase had cost me. He died without doing so, I suppose from inability.

W. D.(1)

Poe’s innocence in the matter seems to be proved by the postscript to Mrs. Clemm, nor is there any reason to believe that the original mistake, by which the volume was included in the sale of Poe’s books, was anything but a natural blunder made [page 207:] in the confusion of the removal, — one, however, which Mrs. Clemm, probably out of short-sighted regard for Poe’s feelings, may have been unwilling to acknowledge.

Poe’s first business in New York after he got settled was presumably to call on the editor of “The Sun,” and offer him the well-known “Balloon Hoax.” At least on the following Saturday, April 13, “The Sun” contained a postscript, in double-leaded type, announcing that a balloon had crossed the Atlantic, bringing news, and had arrived at Charleston, S. C., and promising that an extra, giving full particulars, should be issued at ten o‘clock on that morning. The extra duly appeared, with its narrative, in Poe’s usual realistic manner, of a transatlantic voyage by a party of English aeronauts; and at a time when such journalistic fictions were more common and less easily detected than now, it achieved a momentary success. In the same month appeared the picturesque story of metempsychosis, “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” in “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” No other publications during this spring, except the poem “Dreamland” in “Graham’s” for June, have been traced.

The only direct source of information regarding Poe during these first months in New York is his correspondence with Lowell, who now offered to write his life for the series, “Our Contributors,” then appearing in “Graham’s.” Poe replied as follows: — [page 208:]

NEW YORK, May 28, 44.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

I received yours last night, forwarded from Philadelphia to this city, where I intend living for the future. Touching the Biography — I would be very proud, in deed, if you would write it, and did, certainly, say to myself, and I believe to Graham — that such was my wish; but as I fancied the job might be disagreeable, I did not venture to suggest it to yourself. Your offer relieves me from great embarrassment, and I thank you sincerely. You will do me justice; and that I could not expect at all hands.

Herewith, I mail you a Life written some time since by Hirst, from materials furnished principally by Thomas and Mr. T. W. White. It is correct, I think, in the main (barring extravagant eulogy), and you can select from it whatever you deem right. The limit is 6 pp. of Graham as much less as you please. Besides the Tales enumerated in the foot-note, I have written “The Spectacles;” “The Oblong Box;” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains;” “The Premature Burial;” “The Purloined Letter;” “The System of Doctors Tar and Fether;” “The Black Cat;” “The Elk;” “Diddling Considered as one of the Exact Sciences;” “Mesmeric Revelation;” “The Gold Bug;” “Thou art the Man;” about 60 altogether, including the “Grotesque and Arabesque.” Those italicized are as yet unpublished — in the hands of different editors. Of the “Gold Bug” (my most successful tale), more than 300,000 copies have been circulated.

There is an article on “American Poetry” in a late number of the London Foreign Quarterly, in which some [page 209:] allusion is made to me, as a poet, and as an imitator of Tennyson. I would like you to say (in my defense) what is the fact: that the passages quoted as imitations were written and published, in Boston, before the issue of even Tennyson’s first volume. Dickens (I know) wrote the article — I have private personal reasons for knowing this. The portrait prepared, does not in the least resemble me.

I wrote you a long letter from Philadelphia about seven weeks since — did you get it? You make no allusion to it. In great haste,

Your most sincere friend,

EDGAR A. POE.(1)

The list of the tales still in the hands of editors which this letter gives brings out strongly one source of the discouragement under which Poe had to bear up. He had been for ten years a writer of untiring industry, and in that time had produced an amount of work large in quantity and excellent in quality, much of it belonging in the very highest rank of imaginative prose; but his books had never sold, and the income from his tales and other papers in the magazines had never sufficed to keep the wolf from the door unless he eked out his sup port by editing. The fact that literature was not a paying profession, however, merely involved as its consequence that Poe was under the necessity of obtaining and keeping an editorial post, if he wished to escape poverty; that he did not realize [page 210:] his situation with sufficient clearness, or had not sufficient force of character to govern himself for the sake of the comfort of his home, may have been his fault or his misfortune, but is in either case obvious enough. In spite of all this, nevertheless, it should be constantly kept in mind that Poe had difficulty in selling his work and was very poorly paid. In view of the whole mass of his writings, too, of which a large portion was perish able, what he says of his own indolence in the following letter ought to be taken with some allowance for the tendency he had to idealize his own nature. A poet’s analysis of his original temperament, if it be sincere, is of the highest value; for a man’s conception of his own character, particularly if he be of an introspective turn, counts often as one of the most powerful influences that shape his acts. In describing himself Poe was not unconscious of the presence of Lowell as his auditor, nor forgetful of the latter’s relation to him as his biographer; but the account falls in with other more disinterested utterances by Poe regarding himself, and in general it has an idiosyncratic character that marks it as genuine. In reading it one in voluntarily remembers the separate, slight intimations that Poe’s life and works have already afforded of his use of drugs; more than once, to the reflective mind, a trait of the opium-eater must have already been startlingly distinct, and though the direct evidence of the habit is very scanty the [page 211:] indirect evidence is constant, varied, and convincing. In the light of this suggestion the following rhodomontade of philosophy and self-analysis may lose something of its seeming affectation: —

NEW YORK, July 2, 44.

MY DEAR MR. LOWELL, — I can feel for the “constitutional indolence” of which you complain — for it is one of my own besetting sins. I am excessively sloth ful and wonderfully industrious — by fits. There are epochs when any kind of mental exercise is torture, and when nothing yields me pleasure but solitary communion with the “mountains and the woods,” — the “altars” of Byron. I have thus rambled and dreamed away whole months, and awake, at last, to a sort of mania for composition. Then I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures. This is also the temperament of P. P. Cooke, of Virginia, the author of “Florence Vane,” “Young Rosalie Lee,” and some other sweet poems — and I should not be surprised if it were your own. Cooke writes and thinks as you — and I have been told that you resemble him personally.

I am not ambitious — unless negatively. I now and then feel stirred up to excel a fool, merely because I hate to let a fool imagine that he may excel me. Beyond this I feel nothing of ambition. I really perceive that vanity about which most men merely prate, — the vanity of the human or temporal life. I live continually in a reverie of the future. I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6,000 [page 212:] years ago. The result will never vary — and to suppose that it will, is to suppose that the foregone man has lived in vain — that the foregone time is but the rudiment of the future — that the myriads who have perished have not been upon equal footing with ourselves nor are we with our posterity. I cannot agree to lose sight of man the individual in man the mass. — I have no belief in(1) spirituality. I think the word a mere word. No one has really a conception of spirit. We cannot imagine what is not. We deceive ourselves by the idea of infinitely rarefied matter. Matter escapes the senses by degrees — a stone — a metal — a liquid — the atmosphere — a gas — the luminiferous ether. Beyond this there fare other modifications more rare. But to all we attach the notion of a constitution of particles — atomic composition. For this reason only we think spirit different; for spirit, we say, is unparticled, and therefore is not matter. But it is clear that if we proceed sufficiently far in our ideas of rarefaction, we shall arrive at a point where the particles coalesce; for, although the particles be infinite, the infinity of littleness in the spaces between them is an absurdity. — The unparticled matter, permeating and impelling all things, is God. Its activity is the thought of God — which creates. Man, and other thinking beings, are individualizations of the unparticled matter. Man exists as a “person,” by being clothed with matter (the particled matter) which individualizes him. Thus habited, his life is rudimental. What we call “death” is the painful metamorphosis. The stars are the habitations of rudimental beings. But for the necessity of the rudimental life, there would have been no worlds. At death, the worm is the butterfly — still material, but of a [page 213:] matter unrecognized by our organs — recognized occasionally, perhaps, by the sleep-waker directly — without organs — through the mesmeric medium. Thus a sleep-waker may see ghosts. Divested of the rudimental covering, the being inhabits space, — what we suppose to be the immaterial universe, passing everywhere, and acting all things, by mere volition, — cognizant of all secrets but that of the nature of God’s volition, the motion, or activity, of the unparticled matter.

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 — whom, with Keats, Shelley, Coleridge (occasionally), and a few others of like thought and expression, I regard as the sole poets. Music is the perfection of the soul, or idea, of Poetry. The vagueness of exaltation aroused by a sweet air (which should be strictly indefinite and never too strongly suggestive) is precisely what we should aim at in poetry. Affectation, within bounds, is thus no blemish.

I still adhere to Dickens as either author, or dictator, of the review. My reasons would convince you, could I give them to you, but I have left myself no space. I had two long interviews with Mr. D. when here. Nearly everything in the critique, I heard from him, or suggested to him, personally. The poem of Emerson I read to him, [page 214:]

I have been so negligent as not to preserve copies of any of my volumes of poems nor was either worthy of preservation. The best passages were culled in Hirst’s article. I think my best poems — “The Sleeper,” “The Conqueror Worm,” “The Haunted Palace,” “Lenore,” “Dreamland,” and the “Coliseum,” — but all have been hurried and unconsidered. My best tales are “Ligeia,” the “Gold-Bug,” the “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the “Tell-Tale Heart,” the “Black Cat,” “William Wilson,” and “The Descent into the Maelström.” “The Purloined Letter,” forthcoming in the “Gift,” is perhaps the best of my tales of ratiocination. I have lately written for Godey “The Oblong Box” and “Thou art the Man,” — as yet unpublished. With this I mail you the “Gold-Bug,” which is the only one of my tales I have on hand.

Graham has had, for nine months, a review of mine on Longfellow’s “Spanish Student,” which I have “used up,” and in which I have exposed some of the grossest plagiarisms ever perpetrated. I can‘t tell why he does not publish it. — I believe G. intends my Life for the September number, which will be made up by the 10th August. Your article should be on hand as soon as convenient. Believe me your true friend,

E. A. POE.(1)

The philosophic lucubrations in the foregoing were taken from his metaphysical tale, “Mesmeric Revelations,” about to be published in the “Columbian Magazine” for August, and were after wards more fully developed. In his next letter he [page 215:] returned to the subject, and gave the noticeable information that he was engaged on his “Critical History of American Literature,” a book at which he kept working until death.

NEW YORK, August 18, 1844.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

With this letter I take the liberty to mail you a number of the “Columbian Magazine,” in which you will find a paper on “Mesmeric Revelation.” In it I have endeavored to amplify some ideas which I suggested in my last letter.

You will observe many corrections and alterations. In fact the article was wofully misprinted; and my principal object in boring you with it now, is to beg of you the favor to get it copied (with corrections) in the Brother Jonathan — I mean the Boston Notion — or any other paper where you have interest. If you can do this without trouble, I would be very deeply indebted to you. I am living so entirely out of the world, just now, that I can do nothing of the kind myself.

In what are you occupied? — or is it still the far niente? For myself I am very industrious — collecting and arranging materials for a Critical History of American Literature. Do you ever see Mr. Hawthorne? He is a man of rare genius. A day or two since I met with a sketch by him called “Browne’s Wooden Image” — delicious. The leading idea, however, is suggested by Michael Angelo’s couplet: —

Non ha l’ otterino artista alcun concetto

Che un marmo solo in se non circumscriva.

To be sure Angelo half stole the thought from Socrates. [page 216:]

How fares it with the Biography? I fear we shall be late. Most truly your friend,

EDGAR A. POE.(1)

Two months later he acknowledges the receipt of the biography, which Lowell had sent, September 27, in care of his friend, Mr. C. F. Briggs, Poe’s future partner, and again reverts to the scheme for the association of authors in a Magazine Company.

NEW YORK, Oct. 28, 44.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

A host of small troubles growing from the one trouble of poverty, but which I will not trouble you with in detail, have hitherto prevented me from thanking you for the Biography and all the well-intended flatteries which it contains. But, upon the principle of better late than never, let me thank you now, again and again. I sent it to Graham on the day I received it — taking with it only one liberty in the way of modification. This. I hope you will pardon. It was merely the substitution of another brief poem for the last you have done me the honor to quote.

I have not seen your marriage announced, but I presume from what you said in your penultimate letter, that I may congratulate you now. Is it so? At all events I can wish you no better wish than that you may derive from your marriage as substantial happiness as I have derived from mine.

A long time ago I wrote you a long letter to which you have never replied. It concerned a scheme for protecting [page 217:] ourselves from the imposition of publishers by a coalition. I will state it again in brief. Suppose a dozen of the most active or influential men of letters in this country should unite for the purpose of publishing a magazine of high character. Their names to be kept secret, that their mutual support might be the more effectual. Each member to take a share of the stock at $100 a share. Each, if required, to furnish one article each month — the work to be sustained altogether by the contributions of the members, or by unpaid contributions from others. As many of the members as possible to be taken from those connected otherwise with the press: — a black-ball to exclude any one suggested as a member by those already conjoined — this to secure unanimity. These, of course, are mere hints in the rough. But suppose that (the scheme originating with yourself and me) we write to any others or, seeing them personally, engage them in the enterprise. The desired number being made up, a meeting might be held, and a constitution framed. A point in this latter might be that an editor should be elected periodically from among the stockholders.

The advantages of such a coalition seem to me very great. The Magazine could be started with a positive certainty of success. There would be no expense for contributions, while we would have the best. Plates, of course, would be disdained. The aim would be to elevate without stupefying our literature — to further justice — to resist foreign dictation — and to afford (in the circulation and profit of the journal) a remuneration to ourselves for whatever we should write.

The work should be printed in the very best manner, [page 218:] and should address the aristocracy of talent. We might safely give, for $5, a pamphlet of 128 pages, and, with the support of the variety of our personal influence, we might easily extend the circulation to 20,000, — giving $100,000. The expenses would not exceed $40,000, — if indeed they reached $20,000 when the work should be fairly established. Thus there would be $60,000 to be divided among twelve, — $5,000 per annum apiece.

I have thought of this matter long and cautiously, and am persuaded that there would be little difficulty in doing even far more than I have ventured to suggest.

Do you hear anything more about the Lectures?

Truly yours, E. A. POE.(1)

It was before the date of this letter that, according to Mr. N. P. Willis, Mrs. Clemm called upon him and solicited employment for Poe, who was then, she said, ill. Willis, who was just converting his weekly paper, the “New Mirror,” into the “Evening Mirror,” a daily, with a weekly issue in addition, was in need of a subordinate, and in consequence of Mrs. Clemm’s visit, whose countenance, he says, in his falsetto style, was made “beautiful and saintly by an evident complete giving up of her life to privation and sorrowful tenderness,” Poe was engaged as an assistant — “a mechanical paragraphist,” to use Willis’s phrase — in the “Mirror” office. There, at a desk in a corner, he sat from nine in the morning until the paper went to press, ready for whatever work might befall. Without a [page 219:] smile, or a word of praise or blame, he discharged the duties of the daily routine punctually, listened good-humoredly to the request that he would dull the edge of a criticism or soften a misanthropic sentiment, and conformed with entire fidelity to the suggestions made. Such is Willis’s sketch of his subordinate, and he adds in general terms that through a considerable period he saw only “one presentment of the man, — a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability.” It needs no keen eye to read between the lines of this highly respectable description the real facts, — that the pay was small, the labor perfunctory and uninteresting, and the spirit of the poet himself, compelled to subdue his saturnine temper to the geniality of his chief, was chafing and burning within. It was a striking in stance of Pegasus in harness.

The first number of “The Evening Mirror” appeared October 7, 1844, and the next day the literary columns contained this passage upon Elizabeth Barrett Browning: —

“Miss Barrett is worth a dozen of Tennyson and six of Motherwell — equal perhaps in original genius to Keats and Shelley.”

Two months later this was followed up by an other unmistakable sentence on the same poetess: —

“We do not believe there is a poetical soul embodied [page 220:] in this world that — as a centre of thought — sees further out toward the periphery permitted to angels, than Miss Barrett.“(1)

These critical dicta could have been no one’s but Poe’s; and as his hand is readily discerned in the literary paragraphing at many other points, it is most likely that he was employed on the daily from its start. It is as certain, on the other hand, as internal evidence can make it that he never before this time, as has been stated,(2) made one of Willis’s staff of writers.

Nothing of Poe’s in the “Mirror” during the first three months requires notice; but meanwhile his old pieces in editors hands had got published: the two inferior grotesques, “The Oblong Box” and “Thou art the Man,” in “Godey’s” for September and October; “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob,” a satirical extravaganza, mainly ridiculous, on the ways of editors and the means of popularity, which had at last found its indulgent victim in the “Southern Literary Messenger “for December, [page 221:] where it appeared anonymously; “The Purloined Letter,” in the “Gift” for 1845, closing the series of the ratiocinative tales. In the “Democratic Review” for November and December, too, the first installments of the miscellaneous notes called “Marginalia” were issued; and as one reads them and the later collections, which continued to be published until Poe died, one cannot but admire the audacity of their author, who could thus resell clippings from his old book reviews since the beginning of his career, by merely giving them a new title. It was a dexterous filching back from Time of the alms for oblivion already given and stored away in that capacious wallet. Doubtless Poe looked on editors as fair game, — if they would not buy his new tales, let them purchase his old criticisms. But now an event occurred that made any manuscripts by Poe treasure-trove. Probably the editors, who had almost emptied their pigeon-holes of his accumulated contributions, were sorry they had not delayed longer.

In the “Evening Mirror,” January 29, 1845, “The Raven“(1) was published, with a highly commendatory [page 222:] card from Willis; and a few days later “The American Whig Review” for February, from the advance sheets of which this poem had been copied, was the centre of literary interest and the prey of editorial scissors throughout the length and breadth of the country. In the magazine the author was masked under the pseudonym “Quarles,” but in this journal he had been named as E. A. Poe. The popular response was instantaneous and decisive. No great poem ever established itself so immediately, so widely, and so imperishably in men’s minds. “The Raven” became, in some sort, a national bird, and the author the most notorious American of the hour. It happened and for this Godey and Graham must have blessed their stars that in their respective magazines of this same month the former published “The 1002 Tale,” the voyage of Sinbad among the wonders made known by modern science, and the latter Lowell’s sketch of Poe.

One cannot help wondering whether Poe felt no misgiving when he read the latter, with its falsifications of fact, and in the first heat of an assured fame reflected that these might some day be inquired into. Not to mention minor representations, the third misstatement of his birth (1813), the romance of his expedition to St. Petersburg, and the assertion that he left West Point on account of the birth of a son and heir to Mr. Allan, he knew to be untrue; even if he were not responsible [page 223:] for the original errors (the assumption is absurd) in the previous sketches of him by Griswold and Hirst, he furnished the latter’s biography as the source of information, and he himself revised Lowell’s own article four months before its publication. Poe circulated, and so far as he could practically accredited, falsehoods concerning himself; moreover, he approved the report of his wildness in youth, and he took no pains to explain the questionable incidents of his career. One single poor defense for his conduct, in this particular instance, he left his biographer in the guarded sentence in his letter to Lowell, in which he describes the “Museum” Life as correct “in the main.” Similar untruths, however, in regard to himself occur in his letters and other writings, although it has not been thought necessary to call special attention to them in each case. This failing casts suspicion upon all unsupported assertions by him that directly affect himself.

The first trial Poe made of the value of his popularity was to lecture in the library of the New York Historical Society, on February 28, when between two and three hundred persons gathered to hear him. His subject was, as before, American Poetry, and in substance the address was the old monologue, sharp, bitter, and grim, on the sins of editors and the stupidity of versifiers, relieved only by the recitation of a few fine poems and too generous praise where he thought praise was due. [page 224:] He dealt with Mrs. Sigourney, Mrs. Welby, Mrs. Osgood, Seba Smith, the Davidsons, Bryant, Halleck, Longfellow, Sprague, and Dana. The inference is that the lecture was made up by piecing together his old book reviews, and was probably textually the same with that delivered at Philadelphia, except that he now omitted reference to Griswold, with whom he was endeavoring to renew his acquaintance, plainly from selfish motives. He was still playing the part of the fearless critic, and he found some listeners to follow Lowell’s lead and commend him for his daring, while they acknowledged the usefulness of his ungracious service; but there were many more in whose minds his words rankled. He was a good speaker, having natural gifts of elocution and an effective manner. Willis, in noticing the lecture, sketches him with the elegant facility that now, to our changed taste, reads so much like nonsense: —

“He becomes a desk, — his beautiful head showing like a statuary embodiment of Discrimination; his ac cent drops like a knife through water, and his style is so much purer and clearer than the pulpit commonly gets or requires that the effect of what he says, besides other things, pampers the ear.“(1)

The lecture over, Poe returned to his work upon the “Mirror,” which he had already got into trouble by an attack on Longfellow’s collection of minor fugitive poems, called “The Waif;” but in [page 225:] the course of the month he withdrew from the paper, much to the regret of his employer. His contributions to the “Mirror” were of the slightest interest, and contain nothing novel. His connection with it had inured to his own benefit by the frequent puffs of himself, both direct and indirect, which it published, and by the literary introductions which his position afforded him. He was, however, always dissatisfied with his situation, and before half a year had passed practically used the “Mirror” to advertise for a better place. In the same issue that reprinted Lowell’s critical estimate of him, he is editorially praised, his capacities as a magazine editor pointed out, and himself described as “ready for propositions.“(1) No proposition of the kind was made, but an arrangement was entered into by which he became associated with Charles F. Briggs, then known as “Harry Franco,” in the management of the “Broadway Journal,” a weekly which had issued its first number on the 4th of January previous.

Briggs was a writer of light literature, from Nantucket, and ambitious of editing a paper. A month before this time he wrote to his friend Lowell, “I have made arrangements for publishing the first number of my long-talked-of paper in January. It will be published by John Bisco, a shrewd Yankee from Worcester, who has been a school-teacher in New Jersey, and was once the publisher of the [page 226:] ‘Knickerbocker.‘” Further on he adds, “If you know Poe’s address, send it to me when you write.“(1) In consequence of this introduction, Poe contributed to the first two numbers of the “Journal” a review of Mrs. Browning, and from that time was a regular writer, at the rate of $1 a column. The impression he made on Briggs is told in the following passages of the latter’s correspondence with Lowell: —

“I like Poe exceedingly well; Mr. Griswold has told me shocking bad stories about him, which his whole demeanor contradicts.“(2)

“Poe tells me that Graham refused to print his tale of the Gold Bug, and kept it in his possession nine months. I never read it before last week, and it strikes me as among the most ingenious pieces of fiction that I have ever seen. If you have not read it, it will repay you for the trouble when you do. He told me further more that the poem which you have quoted from the House of Usher,

In a valley, fair and shady [sic] By good angels tenanted, etc.,

he sent to O Sullivan for the Democratic, and it was returned to him. You see by these what the judgments of Magazine editors amount to. . . . I have al ways strangely misunderstood Poe, from thinking him one of the Graham and Godey species, but I find him as different as possible. I think that you will like him well when you come to know him personally.“(3) [page 227:]

At the beginning of March Poe was announced as a co-editor, with Henry G. Watson and Briggs, of the “Journal;” and for the sake of elucidation it should be added that by this time he was in the thick of the so-called “Longfellow war,” in which he was endeavoring to sustain the charge of plagiarism against the poet, and that incidentally he occasionally glanced at Lowell as guilty of the same offense, whether, knowingly or not. By following the correspondence, which is the only original authority for this portion of Poe’s career, the relations between him and his chief are easily made out. On March 8 Briggs writes, —

“Poe is only an assistant to me, and will in no manner interfere with my own way of doing things. It was requisite that I should have his or some other person’s assistance, on account of my liability to be taken off from the business of the paper, and as his name is of some authority I thought it advisable to announce him as an editor. Mr. Watson’s name will command the support of a good portion of the musical interest in this city and in Boston, and by putting forth his name as musical editor I can gain his time for a pro rata dividend on the amount of patronage which he may obtain. He is the only musical critic in the country and a thorough good fellow. Poe has left the Mirror. Willis was too Willisy for him. Unfortunately for him (Poe) he has mounted a very ticklish hobby just now, Plagiarism, which he is bent on riding to death, and I think the better way is to let him run down as soon as possible by giving him no check. Wiley and Putnam are going to [page 228:] publish a new edition of his tales and sketches. Every body has been raven-mad about his last poem, and his lecture, which “W. Story went with me to hear, has gained him a dozen or two of waspish foes who will do him more good than harm.“(1)

A week later, March 16, he returns to the same subject: —

“Poe is a monomaniac on the subject of plagiarism, and I thought it best to allow him to ride his hobby to death in the outset and be done with it. It all commenced with myself. When he was in the Mirror office he made what I thought a very unjustifiable charge against my friend Aldrich [James Aldrich], who is one of the best fellows in the world, and I replied to it as you saw. Somebody in Boston, Outis, whose name I for get, replied to P. on behalf of Longfellow and Aldrich, and so the war began. It will end as it began, in smoke. But it will do us some good by calling public attention to our paper. Poe is a much better fellow than you have an idea of. . . . The ‘Journal’ gains strength every day, and I am very sanguine of success.“(2)

Three days later he writes again more fully: —

“I thought it best to gain Poe’s services as a critic be cause he already has a reputation for reviewing, and I could gain them by allowing him a certain portion of the profits of the paper. He thought it would gain the Journal a certain number of subscribers immediately if his name were published in connection with it. I did [page 229:] not much like the plan, but he had had more experience than myself in the matter, so I consented. . . . I retain precisely the same authority I did in the beginning. . . . Poe’s fol-de-rol about plagiarism I do not like, but the replies which it provokes serve us as advertisements, and help us along. As he dealt more severely by me and my friend Aldrich than anybody else I do not think that anybody has any right to complain of his thumps. I think that you are too sensitive in regard to Longfellow; I really do not see that he has said anything offensive about him. . . . Poe has indeed a very high admiration for Longfellow, and so he will say before he is done. For my own part I did not use to think well of Poe, but my love for you and implicit confidence in your judgment, led me to abandon all my prejudices against him when I read your account of him. The Rev. Mr. Griswold, of Philadelphia, told me some abominable lies about him, but a personal acquaintance with him has induced me to think highly of him. Perhaps some Philadelphian has been whispering foul things in your ear about him. Doubtless his sharp manner has made him many enemies. But you will think better of him when you meet him.“(1)

While Briggs was thus explaining his own position and defending Poe from the strictures of Lowell, who had now ceased to correspond with him, the “Broadway Journal” was becoming notorious by this “Longfellow war,” which, as Briggs remarked at the time, was “all on one side.” The attitude of Poe toward Longfellow has become sufficiently [page 230:] clear in the course of the preceding narrative; he was a jealous admirer. The present, and most notorious, embroglio was occasioned by the publication of “The Waif,” a collection of fugitive pieces by minor authors, edited by Long fellow. In the “Evening Mirror” Poe had said, —

“We conclude our notes on the ‘Waif’ with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy? We shall be pleased if it be so; — but there does appear, in this little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate (is that the word?) and yet never incidentally commend.“(1)

The discussion thus begun was followed up in succeeding issues with the protests of Longfellow’s friends and the editorial comment in reply, extenuating on Willis’s part, vindicatory on Poe’s , until Willis withdrew from the discussion in a card in which he stated his entire dissent from “all the disparagement of Longfellow” that had been published in the “Mirror;” and soon after he admitted to its columns a lengthy defense of him by one “Outis,” at just about the time that Poe left the office to join Briggs.

On March 1 the new editor of the “Broadway Journal” began his reply to “Outis,” which was continued in weekly installments through five numbers. [page 231:] As far as it related to Longfellow it repeated textually the charge made in “Burton’s” in regard to “The Midnight Mass for the Dying Year;” discredited a letter in which Longfellow had person ally explained the error in consequence of which he had translated a song of Motherwell’s back into English from the German of Wolff, under the impression that it was original with the latter; and finally charged new plagiarisms, particularly in the case of “The Spanish Student,” some scenes of which he traced to his own “Politian” in a violent passage in which probably the old review is incorporated.

To sum up Poe’s strictures as urged here and in earlier and later writings, Longfellow was a plagiarist, a didactic poet, and a writer of hexameters. In this there is so much truth as is involved in the milder statement that he belonged to the poets of cultivation rather than of irresistible original genius, that he frequently wrote to illustrate or enforce morality, and that his ear was too little refined to be offended by the spondaic flatness of an English hexameter. That Poe was sincere in his opinions, though he enforced them rudely and with the malicious pleasure of an envious rival, there can be little question; that Longfellow never pilfered from Poe, and that in the unconscious adaptations natural to a poet of culture he never imitated him, there can be no doubt at all. In the elusive search for motives in the case, it is best to remain content [page 232:] with Longfellow’s charitable opinion: “The harshness of his criticisms I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong.“(1)

Poe’s other contributions to the “Journal” during the time that he had “a third interest” (as he described to Griswold his salary of a third of the profits) were plentiful, but not original. The miserable grotesque “Peter Snooks,” and the long-rejected tale “The Premature Burial,” of which no earlier publication is found, were the only new stories; but of the old ones he reprinted, sometimes with slightly changed names and other revision, “Lionizing,” “Berenice,” “Bon-Bon,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Philosophy of Furniture,” “Three Sundays in a Week,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Eleonora,” “Shadow,” “The Assignation,” and “Morella;” and of his poems, To F —— ,” “The Sleeper,” “To One in Paradise,” and “The Conqueror Worm.” He also utilized passages from old book-reviews by incorporating them in new notices. His new papers were for the most part hack-work articles on anastatic printing, street-paving, magazine literature, etc., etc.; the only noteworthy pieces being a critical baiting of one W. W. Lord, who had committed the un pardonable sin of plagiarizing from the author of “The Raven,” and the exhaustive review of some volumes of Mrs. Browning s, already mentioned. [page 233:] In this last, although nearly all the space is taken up with unfavorable comment in detail, Miss Barrett is at the conclusion lifted to the highest pinnacle but one: “She has surpassed all her poetical contemporaries of either sex (with a single exception),” that exception being Tennyson.

Outside of the “Journal,” Poe contributed to the April “Whig Review” “The Doomed City” and “The Valley Nis,” revised, and “Some Words with a Mummy,” a grotesque on the old theme that “there is nothing new under the sun,” with some unusual satire on politics. Before the end of the year, it may be added here, he had published in the “Democratic” “The Power of Words,” a metaphysical tale; in the “Whig,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” that tale which for mere physical disgust and foul horror has no rival in literature, though in writing it, Poe was much indebted to a romance, “The Seeress of Prevorst,” and in the same magazine in July the new poem “Eulalie,” and in August the review of “The American Drama” in which he dealt mainly with Willis’s “Tortesa,” and once more with Long fellow’s “Spanish Student” at great length; in “Graham’s,” “The Imp of the Perverse,” the last of the tales of conscience, and the absurd mad house grotesque “Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether;” and in “Godey’s” two installments of the clippings from old magazines, called “Marginalia.” These publications include all his new writings until 1846. [page 234:]

The history of the “Broadway Journal” in the mean time was interesting. When the first volume was approaching its end, Briggs wrote to Lowell, June 29, 1845, reviewing his plans: —

“I have arrangements on foot with a new publisher for the Journal who will enable me to give it a fresh start, and I trust very soon to be able to give you an earnest of its profits. I shall haul down Poe’s name; he has latterly got into his old habits and I fear will in jure himself irretrievably. I was taken at first with a certain appearance of independence and learning in his criticisms, but they are so verbal, and so purely selfish that I can no longer have any sympathy with him.“(1)

Not long before, Lowell, being on his way from Philadelphia back to Cambridge, called on Poe; but as, in Mrs. Clemm’s words to the former, “he was not himself” that day, none of those golden hopes, indulged in by Poe, and at an earlier date by Briggs also, were realized from this personal meeting. The interview, however, prepared Lowell for the fol lowing passage in Briggs’s next letter, in explanation of what seemed a sudden demise of the “Journal:” —

“The non-appearance of the Broadway Journal has probably surprised you. I had made arrangements with a new publisher, — a very good business man, — and had agreed upon terms with Bisco to buy his interest; but when I came to close with him he exacted more than I had stipulated for, and finding that he was determined [page 235:] to give me trouble I refused to do anything with the ‘Journal.’ I had the first number of the new volume all ready to be issued, with a handsomely engraved title, etc.; but, as I could not put the new publisher’s name upon it without Bisco’s consent, I let it go a week, meaning to issue a double number — not doubting that I could agree with him upon some terms; but he had fallen into the hands of evil advisers, and became more extortionate than ever. Poe in the meantime got into a drunken spree, and conceived an idea that I had not treated him well, for which he had no other grounds than my having loaned him money, and persuaded Bisco to carry on the Journal himself. As his doing so would give me a le gal claim upon him, and enable me to recover something from him, I allowed him to issue one number, but it is doubtful whether he issues another. Mr. Homans, the publisher, with whom I had agreed to undertake the publication of the Journal, is an educated man and a thorough good fellow, with a very extensive book-selling connection. He is still desirous of taking hold of the Journal, and has made me a very liberal offer to go on with him if he can purchase Bisco’s share. But I do not yet know how the affair will terminate.

“Poe’s mother-in-law told me that he was quite tipsy the day that you called upon him, and that he acted very strangely; but I perceived nothing of it when I saw him in the morning. He was to have delivered a poem before the societies of the New York University a few weeks since, but drunkenness prevented him. I believe he had not drank anything for more than eighteen months until within the past three months, but in this time he has been very frequently carried home in a [page 236:] wretched condition. I am sorry for him. He has some good points, but, taken altogether, he is badly made up. I was deceived by his superficial talents when I first met him, and relied too much upon the high opinion which you had expressed of him. His learning is very much like that of the famous Mr. Jenkinson in the Vicar of Wakefield. He talks about dactyls and spondees with surprising glibness; and the names of metres being caviare to nine men out of ten, he has gained a reputation for erudition at a very cheap rate. He makes quotations from the German, but he can t read a word of the language.“(1)

Some further explanation of the matter was given August 1: —

“I did not give you sufficient particulars to enable you to understand my difficulties with Bisco and Poe. Neither has done anything without my full consent, and I have nothing to complain of but their mean ness, which they could n t help. I had told P. a month before that I should drop his name from the ‘Journal.’ He said I might keep it there if I wanted to, although he intended to go into the country and devote his time to getting up books, and would not therefore be able to assist me. I had also told Bisco that I would have nothing more to do with him after the close of the first volume, and that I would not carry it on unless I could find a publisher to my mind. I did find such a publisher, and Bisco, thinking that I was very anxious to go on with it, was more exacting in his demands for his share of the Journal than I thought just, so I told him [page 237:] I would not take it; and he, thinking to spite me, and Poe, thinking to glorify himself in having overmastered me, agreed to go on with it. I laughed at their folly, and told them to go ahead; but I still hold the same right that I ever did, and could displace them both if I wished to do so. But seeing so much poltroonery and littleness in the business gave me a disgust to it, and I let them alone, hoping to get back from Bisco some money which I had advanced him.“(1)

Three weeks later he wrote a characterization of Poe more in detail: —

“You have formed a correct estimate of Poe’s characterless character. I have never met a person so utterly deficient of high motive. He cannot conceive of any body’s doing anything, except for his own personal ad vantage; and he says, with perfect sincerity, and entire unconsciousness of the exposition which it makes of his own mind and heart, that he looks upon all reformers as madmen; and it is for this reason that he is so great an egoist. He cannot conceive why the world should not feel an interest in whatever interests him, because he feels no interest himself in what does not personally con cern him. Therefore, he attributes all the favor which Longfellow, yourself, or anybody else receives from the world as an evidence of the ignorance of the world, and the lack of that favor in himself he attributes to the world’s malignity. It is too absurd for belief, but he really thinks that Longfellow owes his fame mainly to the ideas which he has borrowed from his (Poe’s) writings in the Southern Literary Messenger. His presumption is [page 238:] beyond the liveliest imagination. He has no reverence for Homer, Shakespeare, or Milton, but thinks that Orion is the greatest poem in the language. He has too much prudence to put his opinions into print, — or, rather, he can find nobody impudent enough to print them, — but he shows himself in his private converse. The Bible, he says, is all rigmarole. As to his Greek, — you might see very well if it were put in your eye. He does not read Wordsworth, and knows nothing about him.”(1)

As has been incidentally mentioned above, the “Journal” was suspended for one week; and when the first number of the second volume appeared, a week later, it bore Poe’s name as sole editor. Since he describes himself as “one third proprietor,” in his old terms, it seems probable that he agreed to go on with Bisco for one third of the profits, just as before, but having entire charge. Bisco himself declares that he meant to get rid of Briggs, and, in order to do so, took up with Poe. There was from the first some financial tangle between the parties, which, fortunately, there is no need to unravel. The result of the difference was to install Poe in full control. One of his acts was to have a fling at Briggs, in connection with which our last extract from the latter’s correspondence has its interest: —

“You take Poe’s niaiseries too seriously. I only cared for his unhandsome allusion to me in the B. J. because it proved him a baser man than I thought him before. [page 239:] . . . The truth is that I have not given him the shadow of a cause for ill-feeling; on the contrary he owes me now for money that I lent him to pay his board and keep him from being turned into the street. But he knows that I am possessed of the secret of his real character and he no doubt hates me for it. Until it was absolutely necessary for me to expose some of his practices to save my self from contempt I never breathed a syllable of his ill habits, but I tried in vain to hide them from observation out of pure compassion, for I had not known him long before I lost all respect for him and felt a loathing dis gust for his habits. I did not much blame him for the matter of his remarks about Jones, although the manner of them was exceeding improper and unjust; the real cause of his ire was Jones neglecting to enumerate him among the humorous writers of the country, for he has an inconceivably extravagant idea of his capacities as a humorist. The last conversation I had with Poe he used all his power of eloquence in persuading me to join him in the joint editor-ship of the Stylus.“(1)

Poe remained simply editor, with his third interest for pay, until October. In the first number of his editing was a review of his own “Tales,“(2) just published by Wiley and Putnam as No. 2 in their [page 240:] “Library of American Books,” and edited by Duyckinck, who certainly had selected from Poe’s numerous and uneven stories those on which his fame has proved itself to be founded. Poe, however, declared in private, “Those selected are not my best, nor do they fairly represent me in any respect.“(1) He meant that they were too much of one kind, whereas he had aimed at diversity in his writings; in other words, the grotesque tales were slighted, and hence the universality of his genius and the versatility of his talents were not illustrated. During the first months of his editorship he reprinted, as before, his old tales, occasionally somewhat revised: “How to Write a Black wood Article,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Literary Life of Thingum-Bob,” “The Business Man,” “The Man who was Used Up,” “Never Bet the Devil your Head,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “William Wilson,” “Why the Little Frenchman wears his Hand in a Sling,” “The Landscape Garden,” “The Tale of Jerusalem,” “The Island of the Fay,” “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “The Duc d Omelette,“(2) “King Pest,“(2) “The Power of Words,” and “Diddling Considered as one of the Fine Arts.” Of his poetry he used “The Coliseum,” “Zante,” “Israfel,” “Silence,“(3) “Science,” “Bridal Ballad,” “Eulalie,” “Lenore,“(2) “A Dream,“(3) “Catholic Hymn,“(4) “Romance,“(3) “City in the [page 241:] Sea,” “To the River —— ,” “The Valley of Unrest,” “To F —— ,” To —— “(1) (“The bowers whereat”), “Song “(1) (“I saw thee”), and “Fairy land;“(2) of criticism there was nothing noteworthy except a flattering review of Hirst and a satirical one of Hoyt, both poetasters.

In October occurred one of the best known incidents of Poe’s life. In the summer he had visited Boston, and now was invited to give a poem before the Boston Lyceum (it will be remembered that Lowell had at Poe’s request formerly interested himself to obtain an engagement for him to lecture before the same organization), and he accepted. On the evening appointed, October 16, a lecture, which was the second of the course, having been given by Caleb Gushing, Poe came forward on the platform of the Odeon, and after some prefatory remarks about the foolishness of didacticism read “Al Aaraaf.” The audience, the hour being late, began to disperse, but enough persons remained to enjoy his recitation of “The Raven,” with which the entertainment closed. Whatever was the cause, Poe disappointed his audience, and afterwards some Boston papers commented somewhat severely on the performance, especially when the truth came out that the poem given was a juvenile production, written years before. Poe, when he returned to New York, declared that he had acted of malice prepense. [page 242:]

“It would scarcely be supposed that we would put ourselves to the trouble of composing for the Bostonians anything in the shape of an original poem. We did not. “We had a poem (of about five hundred lines) lying by us — one quite as good as new — one at all events, that we considered would answer sufficiently well for an audience of transcendentalists. That we gave them it was the best that we had — for the price — and it did answer remarkably well. Its name was not “The Messenger Star” — who but Miss Walters would ever think of so delicious a little bit of invention as that? We had no name for it at all. The poem is what is occasionally called a ‘juvenile poem’ — but the fact is, it is anything but juvenile now, for we wrote it, printed it, and published it, in book form, before we had fairly completed our tenth year. We read it verbatim, from a copy now in our possession, and which we shall be happy to show at any moment to any of our inquisitive friends.“(1) . . .

The audacity of this last claim to precocity of genius, which would make Poe ten years younger than he was, is almost burlesque. He goes on to say, “Over a bottle of champagne that night, we confessed to Messrs. Gushing, Whipple, Hudson, Field, and a few other natives who swear not al together by the frog-pond — we confessed, we say, the soft impeachment of the hoax.”

This was Poe’s explanation, given in the course of an article, destitute of any gentlemanly trait, in reply to Miss Walters, of the “Transcript,” whose name had before been the target for his [page 243:] shafts. One would say that pique rather than delight was roused in him by the success of what has been called his “mischief-making” expedition to Boston. The fact probably was, as originally stated by Griswold, that Poe had undertaken an engagement, and being unable to write a poem for such an occasion he resorted to his old compositions, and selected “Al Aaraaf” as the most avail able. He may have felt some doubt as to how the audience would take it, but he had none as to the excellence of his poem. His elaborate explanation of his motives was an afterthought.

Just at this time occurred the singular transaction by which Poe became sole proprietor of the “Journal” October 24. Mr. Bisco says that he made over his rights to Poe for the consideration of a promissory note for $50, signed by Poe, and indorsed by Horace Greeley, who had at one time written on political topics for the paper; and when it came due Bisco collected it, as was to be anticipated, from the indorser. Greeley himself refers to this incident, with sharp pleasantry: —

“A gushing youth once wrote me to this effect:

‘DEAR SIR, — Among your literary treasures, you have doubtless preserved several autographs of our country’s late lamented poet, Edgar A. Poe. If so, and you can spare one, please inclose it to me, and receive the thanks of yours truly.

I promptly responded as follows: —

‘DEAR SIR, — Among my literary treasures, there [page 244:] happens to be exactly one autograph of our country’s late lamented poet, Edgar A. Poe. It is his note of hand for fifty dollars, with my indorsement across the back. It cost me exactly $50.75 (including protest), and you may have it for half that amount. Yours, respectfully.

That autograph, I regret to say, remains on my hands, and is still for sale at first cost, despite the lapse of time and the depreciation of our currency.“(1)

Thus Poe at last owned and edited the “Journal,” but he needed capital to run it. In August he had written to Neilson Poe,(2) with whom he had reëstablished connections, that he should start a magazine in January; but this was probably only a chance reference to the “Stylus,” which he was always trying to float. At present he devoted himself to raising further funds to pay the current bills of the paper. Among Griswold’s letters, the authenticity of which cannot be fairly doubted, is one written two days after the “Journal” passed into Poe’s hands. But before citing this it should be remarked that Poe and his future biographer had now become reconciled, and wore at least the show of amity until Poe’s death. The occasion of their renewal of acquaintance was Griswold’s “Prose Writers of America,” in which Poe wished for notice. Soon after the first exchange of letters [page 245:] Poe sent him his poems to be edited, and at a later date he reminded him of the many times he had spoken favorably of him, and gave as the reason for the personal attack in the Philadelphia lecture the fact that some one had ascribed to Griswold the “beastly article” to which reference has al ready been made.

On October 26, 1845, at any rate, Poe felt sufficiently sure of Griswold’s favor to make a request:

MY DEAR GRISWOLD: Will you aid me at a pinch — at one of the greatest pinches conceivable? If you will, I will be indebted to you for life. After a prodigious deal of maneuvering, I have succeeded in getting “The Broadway Journal” entirely within my own control. It will be a fortune to me if I can hold it — and I can do it easily with a very trifling aid from my friends. May I count you as one? Lend me $50, and you shall never have cause to regret it.

Truly yours,

EDGAR A. POE.(1)

In reply to this he apparently received twenty-five dollars at once, and as much more on the first of December; but, the lack of capital continuing to be a pressing trouble, he wrote to his cousin, George Poe, touching the same matter: —

NEW YORK, November 30, ‘45.

DEAR SIR, —

Since the period when (no doubt for good reasons) you declined aiding me with the loan of $50, I have [page 246:] perseveringly struggled against a thousand difficulties, and have succeeded, although not in making money, still in attaining a position in the world of letters, of which, under the circumstances, I have no reason to be ashamed.

For these reasons — because I feel that I have exerted myself to the utmost — and because I believe that you will appreciate my efforts to elevate the family name — I now appeal to you once more for aid.

With this letter I send you a number of “The Broadway Journal,” of which, hitherto, I have been merely editor, and one third proprietor. I have lately purchased the whole paper, and, if I can retain it, it will be a fortune to me in a short time; — but I have exhausted all my resources in the purchase. In this emergency I have thought that you might not be indisposed to assist me.

I refrain from saying any more — for I feel that if your heart is kindly disposed toward me, I have already(1) [Rest, with signature, cut off.]

While these embarrassments were annoying him, Poe used his paper for the reproduction of his works as formerly, and before the end of the year he had reprinted “Some Words with a Mummy,” “The Devil in the Belfry,” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” “Four Beasts in One,” “The Oblong Box,” “Mystification,” “Loss of Breath,“(2) and one not elsewhere published, so far as is known, “The Spectacles,” an extremely weak piece of humor, which Home had tried to get printed in England [page 247:] without success. The poetry had been exhausted before this date, all of it having been put into the printer’s hands in September.

The “Journal” showed vigorous management; its advertisements had been largely increased, and its circulation is said to have doubled. The last numbers of December are full of promises regarding the future; but George Poe not responding, the Greeley note becoming due, and obliging friends being now obdurate, the demise of the paper suddenly took place. On December 26 was published the following: —

VALEDICTORY.

Unexpected engagements demanding my whole attention, and the objects being fulfilled so far as regards my self personally, for which “The Broadway Journal” was established, I now, as its editor, bid farewell — as cordially to foes as to friends.

EDGAR A. POE.

What other objects Poe achieved, except the republication of nearly all the narrative prose he had ever written, and of a considerable portion of his poems, it is hard to see. One more number is said to have been issued, January 3, under the editorship of Thomas Dunn English, with which the “Journal” expired.

Just at the close of the year, apparently on November 31, Poe’s collected poems had been issued by Wiley and Putnam, under the title “The Raven [page 248:] and Other Poems.“(1) The volume contained nearly all the poetry he had ever written, and the versions are those now established in the text. In the preface he speaks in dispraise of his work, saying that he thinks nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very creditable to himself. “Events not to be controlled,” he continues, in the well-known words, “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 man kind.“(2)

The poems which this proud apology prefaced comprise the poetic labors of their author up to the [page 249:] close of this year, and although a few were to be added before his death, they illustrate fully his poetic powers. In attempting an estimate of their worth, it is only just to recur once more to the theory which Poe had now completely developed regarding the aims and scope of poetry; for it is his own comment on his own text. To put it in the fewest words, Poe believed that of the pleasures that spring from Truth, which satisfies the intellect, or from Passion, which excites the heart, or from Beauty, which elevates the soul, the latter is the most pure, keen, and absorbing; and this because it appeals to that sense of harmony and feeds that yearning for its manifestation which belongs to the immortal part of man. In the moods aroused through the sentiment of beauty man is most clearly conscious of his eternal nature, and in the lifting up of his spirit under such influences penetrates (so Poe thought) to the divine. This subtle power is possessed by all beauty in its sensible forms as built by God in nature; but the suggestions of some thing fairer beyond and above nature, which arise in its presence, stimulate man to attempt to reach this unknown loveliness by recombining the elements he perceives, and thus in imagination (which repeats the creative act of God) to fashion by art, under the guidance of his own instinct, an ideal beauty which shall be a new and purer source of spiritual emotion. This creation of beauty is the end of all the fine arts, but in music and in poetry [page 250:] it is most directly accomplished. It would, how ever, be an error to suppose that Poe, in thus adopting the doctrines of Coleridge and rejecting passion and truth and morality as poetic themes, meant to sever poetry by distinct boundaries from those regions of life; on the contrary, he expressly states that “the incitements of Passion, the precepts of Duty, and even the lessons of Truth” may be advantageously introduced into a poem, if they are only subordinated and blended in by the skill of the artist who understands how to use them for the heightening of the effect of mere beauty; and furthermore, it should be observed that to beauty itself Poe assigns both a moral value, as lending attraction to virtue, and an intellectual value, as leading out to the mystical province of that truth which, withdrawn from the probing of the reason, is fathomed by the imagination alone. Such a speculation may be regarded as a baseless reverie or as , profound philosophy; but it is essential to keep in I mind the fact not only that Poe made beauty the theme of poetry, but also that he found its value in intimations of the divine; or, in other words, that he was devoted to a mystical æstheticism. Of the minor articles of his creed it is necessary to recall only those which assert that a poem should be brief; should aim at a single artistic effect, but not to the exclusion of a secondary suggested meaning; and should be touched, if possible, by a certain quaintness, grotesqueness, or peculiarity of rhythm or metre, to give it tone. [page 251:]

One who reflects upon the character of mind implied by the holding of this theory, the elements of which assimilated and united only very slowly in Poe’s case, cannot be surprised at the objections ordinarily urged against Poe’s verses. They are said to be vague, destitute of ideas, insubstantial, unreal, full of artifice, and trenching on the domain of music. That these phrases accurately describe the impression made by the poems on many minds by no means strangers to the poetic sentiment may be granted without hesitation; and if any one maintains that from certain points of view such words are justly applied, it would be futile to dissent. The diversity of criticism upon Poe’s verse is largely due to the assumption that it can be measured intelligibly by any other than his own standard. The poet strives, Poe thought, to bring about in others the state felt in himself; and in his own case that was one of brooding reverie, a sort of emotional possession, full of presentiment, expectancy, and invisible suggestion, the mood that is the habitat of superstition; vagueness was the very hue in which he painted. Again, if in his prose tales he declares repeatedly that he meant not to tell a story, but to produce an effect, much more is it to be thought that in poetry he aimed not to convey an idea, but to make an impression. He was not a philosopher nor a lover; he never served truth nor knew passion; he was a dreamer, and his life was, warp and woof, mood and sentiment [page 252:] instead of act and thought. When he came to poetic expression which must needs be the genuine manifestation of the soul’s secret, he had no wisdom and no romance to disclose, of any earthly reality, and he was forced to bring out his meagre store of visionary facts, to which his random and morbid feelings alone gave credibility. To say of such works that they are destitute of ideas and insubstantial is not criticism, — it is mere description. Even for that slight framework of the things of sense which Poe had to shape in order to allegorize his moods at all, he seems but little indebted to nature. The purely imaginary character of his landscape has been touched on, again and again, hitherto; it is indicative of the obvious fact that he never regarded nature as anything but the crucible of his fancies. To qualify his conceptions as unreal is merely to gather into a colorless word the quivering eastern valley, the flaming city isled in darkness, the angel-thronged, star-lighted theatre of the Worm’s conquest, the wind-blown kingdom by the sea, the Titanic cypress alley, the night’s Plutonian shore, or any other of those dim tracts,

“Out of space, out of time,”

where his spirit wandered. So, too, if any one presses the charge of artifice home, it must be al lowed just, though it attaches only to the later poems and is the excess of art. No poet was ever less spontaneous in excellence than Poe. When one reads, at successive stages of his career, the [page 253:] same old stanzas in new versions, and notices how they grew out of rudeness of many different descriptions into such perfection as they reached, he perceives before him an extraordinary example of growth in the knowledge and exercise of the poetic art, — the pulse of the machine laid bare. The changes are minute and almost innumerable, the approaches to perfection are exceedingly gradual, the last draft is sometimes only slightly related to the earliest; but — and this is the point that proves Poe primarily a careful artist rather than an inspired poet — in every instance the alteration is judicious, the step is a step forward. One who achieves success mainly by self-training in art comes to rely on art overmuch; and so he degenerates into artifice, or visible art, puts his faith in mechanism, and trusts his fame to cogs and levers of words and involutions of sounds; or it may happen, as was perhaps finally the case with Poe, that a weakened mind keeps facility with the tools when the work slips from its grasp. At least, so much truth lies in this last objection of the artificiality of Poe’s work as to justify the more generous statement that he was, in verse as in prose, essentially a skillful literary artist. And further more, music was an essential element of his art. It is true that his ear for verbal melody was at first very defective, and was never perfect, but in much of his best work the rhythmic movement is faultless in its flow and its simplicity. This is not, however, [page 254:] all that is meant by saying that he borrowed effects from music. In his verses sonorousness counts in dependently of its relation to the meaning of the words, and the poem seems at intervals to become merely a volume of sound, in which there is no ap peal to the mind at all, but only a stimulation of the feelings as by the tones of an instrument. In the management of the theme, too, particularly in his later verse, the handling of the refrain, the recurrence to the same vocal sounds and the same order of syllabic structure, the movement of the whole poem by mere new presentations of the one idea, as in “The Raven,” or of the same group of imagery, as in “Ulalume,” partakes of the method of musical composition. In these ways Poe did appropriate the effects of music, and they blended with the other characteristics of his art as sound and color in nature, to make that vague impression on the mind of which he sought the secret. It belongs to his originality that he could thus exercise his mastery in the borderland between poetry and music, where none before him had had power.

After all, to meet the last circumscription of his praise, he did not write a dozen poems of the best rank. Those of his youth, already sufficiently characterized, were works of promise in a boy, but they would not have made a bubble as they sank in the waters of oblivion. Of those composed in manhood (and as such should be reckoned the pres ent versions of “The Sleeper,” “The Valley of [page 255:] Unrest,” “The City in the Sea,” “To One in Paradise,” and possibly “Israfel”) the first fine one was “The Haunted Palace,” nor was that to be free from later improvements; and from its appearance until his death Poe’s poems of the same level can be counted on the fingers. To the world, indeed, he is the genius of one poem only, “The Raven;” unless, to support his name, the fame of “The Bells” and of “Ulalume” be added. There is no occasion to examine either these three or any others of the dozen that are justly immortal; they all be long to the class of poems that make their way at once or not at all. Yet it may serve to define and possibly to elucidate Poe’s nature if it be incidentally noticed that, except in his single lyric “Israfel,” the theme of his imagination is ruin; and that in the larger number of these few best poems it is the special case of ruin which he declared the most poetic of all, — the death of a beautiful woman. It is of no concern that the treatment was radically different, so that in each instance a poem absolutely unique was created; the noteworthy fact is, at present, that Poe’s genius was developed in its strength by brooding over a fixed idea, as the insane do; and when, under great excitement, some other mode of expression was imperative, it was found only in such objective work as the marvelous allegory of “The Conqueror Worm,” so terrible in the very perfection of its flawless art, or in such spirit-broken confession as that other allegory [page 256:] of “The Haunted Palace,” which in intense, imaginative self-portraiture is scarcely excelled in literature. The secret life, the moments of strong est emotion, the hours of longest reach, implied by such motives as these, make that impenetrable background of shadow against which in these poems the poet stands relieved forever, — the object of deep pity, whether his sufferings were imaginary or real, inevitable or self-imposed, the work of unregarding fate or the strict retribution of justice.

But when the utmost has been said adversely, the power of these dozen poems is undiminished even over those who admit their vagueness, their lack of ideas, their insubstantial and unreal quality, their sometimes obvious artifice, their likeness to musical compositions, and their scant number. Poe would himself have considered such censures as praises in disguise, and scoffed at their authors as dull-mettled rascals, like Partridge at the play. The power, after all, remains; first and foremost a power of long-practiced art, but also of the spell itself, of the forms evoked independently of the magic that compels them, — a fascination that makes the mind pause. If one is not subdued by this, at least at moments, there are some regions of mortality unknown to him; he will never disembark on No Man’s Land. If one is not sensible of the exquisite construction here shown, the poetic art is as much a mystery to him as was Prospero’s to Cali ban. But if one with the eye to see and the heart [page 257:] to understand, being once overcome by these poems, continues to inhabit with the ill things that dwell there, he forgets Poe’s own gospel of the ends of art, and perceives not the meaning of the irony that made the worshiper of beauty the poet of the outcast soul. If it be the office of poetry to inti mate the divine, it must be confessed these works of Poe intimate the infernal; they are variations struck on the chord of evil that vibrates in all life, throbs of the heart of pain, echoes of ruin that float up from the deep within the deep, the legend and pagan and ritual of hopeless death; they belong to the confusions of a superstitious mind, the feebleness of an unmanned spirit, the misery of an impotent will. Profound in knowledge of the obscure sources of feeling; almost magical in the subtlety of their art; bold, clear, and novel in imagination; ideal, absolutely original, married to music of the most alluring charm, these poems fulfill all conditions of Poe’s standard save one, and that the supreme one. They deserve their fame; but, seeing the gifts of genius involved in their creation, one turns from the literary result, and scans more narrowly the life in which they were involved.

At this time Poe firs t began to frequent, some times in company with his invalid wife, but more often alone, the receptions at which the littérateurs of the metropolis, particularly the ladies, used to meet. These gatherings took place commonly at Dr. Orville Dewey’s, the eloquent preacher; or at [page 258:] James Lawson’s, distinguished in Poe’s mind as a man interested in our literature although a Scotch man, and as an enthusiast in all matters of taste although himself devoid of it; or at Miss Anne Charlotte Lynch s, a poetess of the Willis group, whose weekly receptions in Waverley Place were thronged by literary men, artists, poetesses, and others of like pursuits. At such resorts, in the midst of a variously constituted company, Poe would sit, dressed in plain black, but with the head, the broad, retreating white brow, the large, luminous, piercing eyes, the impassive lips, that gave the visible character of genius to his features; and if the loud, bluff pleasantry of the humorist physician, Dr. Francis, or the high-keyed declamation of Margaret Fuller in her detested transcendentalist Boston dialect, would permit, he would himself, in his ordinary subdued, musical tones exercise the fascination of his talk on women of lesser note, among whom — to mention only those that come within the scope, of this narrative — were Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, once known as the author of “The Sinless Child” (which Poe thought the most original long American poem excepting Maria del Occidente’s “Bride of Seven”); Mrs. Elizabeth Frieze Ellet, whose hand Poe took in an evil hour; and Mrs. Mary Gove, afterwards Mrs. Nichols, “a Mesmerist, a Swedenborgian, a phrenologist, a homœopathist, and a disciple of Priessnitz,” and, adds Poe, “what more I am not prepared [page 259:] to say.“(1) Notwithstanding his natural reserve his manners were pleasing, and his conversation, although best when but one or two were present, must have been engaging and impressive even in the constraint and inconsequence of general talk. Upon women, especially in these last years, his voice and look had a magical power, although this was probably only the extraordinary charm peculiar to the Virginia society in which he was bred; and, on his side, Poe had long indulged a habit of idealizing women and worshiping them in secret. An attachment of this sort he had formed for Mrs. Francis Sargent Osgood (a poetess of thirty and the wife of an American artist), who On publishing her first volume, seven years before, in London had been taken up as a protégée, by Mrs. Norton. Poe had noticed her verses many times with great favor, and in his New York lecture, especially, eulogized her in warm terms. Shortly after this latter incident Willis one day handed her “The Raven,” with the author’s request for her judgment on it, and for an introduction to herself. She assented, and a few days later Poe called at the Astor House to see her.

“I shall never forget,” she wrote, “the morning when I was summoned to the drawing-room by Mr. Willis to receive him. With his proud and beautiful head erect, his dark eyes flashing with the electric light of feeling and of thought, a peculiar, an inimitable blending of [page 260:] sweetness and hauteur in his expression and manner, he greeted me, calmly, gravely, almost coldly, yet with so marked an earnestness that I could not help being deeply impressed by it. From that moment until his death we were friends; although we met only during the first year of our acquaintance.“(1)

The friendship, so signed, was sealed by some verses addressed to Poe, in the character of Israfel, by Mrs. Osgood, and published in the “Broadway Journal;” and to these Poe replied with a third version of his old stanzas, originally written for little Eliza White, and now transparently rededicated “To Mrs. F——s S——t O——d.” The young poetess soon became intimate with the household in Amity Street, then the place of their settlement, and to her pen is due the only description of the family, at this time, that has been preserved: —

“It was in his own simple yet poetical home that to me the character of Edgar Poe appeared in its most beautiful light. Playful, affectionate, witty, alternately docile and wayward as a petted child, for his young, gentle, and idolized wife, and for all who came, he had, even in the midst of his most harassing literary duties, a kind word, a pleasant smile, a graceful and courteous attention. At his desk beneath the romantic picture of his loved and lost Lenore, he would sit, hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining, tracing, in an exquisitely clear chirography and with almost superhuman swiftness, the lightning thoughts the ‘rare and radiant fancies’ — as they flashed through his wonderful and [page 261:] ever-wakeful brain. I recollect, one morning, toward the close of his residence in this city, when he seemed unusually gay and light-hearted. Virginia, his sweet wife, had written me a pressing invitation to come to them; and I, who never could resist her affectionate summons, and who enjoyed his society far more in his own home than elsewhere, hastened to Amity Street. I found him just completing his series of papers entitled ‘The Literati of New York.’ ’See,’ said he, displaying in laughing triumph several little rolls of narrow paper (he always wrote thus for the press), ‘I am going to show you by the difference of length in these the differ ent degrees of estimation in which I hold all you literary people. In each of these one of you is rolled up and fully discussed. Come, Virginia, help me!’ And one by one they unfolded them. At last they came to one which seemed interminable. Virginia laughingly ran to one corner of the room with one end, and her husband to the opposite with the other. ‘And whose lengthened sweetness long drawn out is that?’ said I. Hear her! he cried. ‘Just as if her little vain heart did n’t tell her it’s herself‘“(1)

Mrs. Osgood was a kind friend, and while her indulgence in sentimentality is sufficiently evident in these reminiscences, and plainly affected her more than she was conscious of, she was pleased to think, with Virginia, that her influence over Poe was for his good. If on his part there were in this Platonic friendship, as she declares, “many little poetical episodes, in which the impassioned [page 262:] romance of his temperament impelled him to in dulge,” they were powerless to disturb the love and confidence between himself and Virginia; and on her own part, his devoted admirer obtained from him a solemn promise not to use stimulants, and, she naively states, he so far observed his word as never to appear before her when affected by them.

At Virginia’s request a correspondence arose between the two, but fraught with evil consequences; for, one day, after the Poes had removed to the village of Fordham, whither they went when the cherry-trees blossomed in 1846, Mrs. Ellet, who was calling on them, saw an open letter from Mrs. Osgood to Poe, couched in language which in her judgment required friendly interference. This lady consulted with her friends, and the scandalized bevy of interlopers prevailed on Mrs. Osgood to commission some of them to demand the return of her portion of the too sugared correspondence. It seems strange that Mrs. Osgood did not herself make the request quietly, if she thought she had committed herself improperly; instead of doing so, however, she sent Margaret Fuller and a companion, who astonished the poet with their credentials. In a moment of exasperation he is said to have re marked that Mrs. Ellet had better come and look after her own letters, — a chance word that seems to have canceled all his considerate flattery of that versifier in the past ten years. The ladies returned to New York with their precious bundle; and Poe [page 263:] says that he gave Mrs. Ellet her own packet with out awaiting her application, and hence was surprised when her brother demanded of him, a few days later, what he had no longer in his possession. Mrs. Osgood did not meet Poe after this, but her testimony to his good qualities was never lacking on occasion. She wrote these reminiscences on her death-bed to defend his memory. “I have never seen him,” she said, “otherwise than gentle, generous, well bred, and fastidiously refined. To a sensitive and delicately nurtured woman, there was a peculiar and irresistible charm in the chivalric, graceful, and almost tender reverence with which he invariably approached all women who won his respect. It was this which first commanded and always retained my regard for him.“(1)

While this romance was verging to its catastrophe, Poe’s literary work was the series of pa pers already mentioned, “The Literati of New York.” It was published in “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” which had now become the mainstay of his support, although he still occasionally contributed to “Graham’s,” which in March published an installment of “Marginalia,” and in April “The Philosophy of Composition,” with its notorious analysis of the genesis of “The Raven.”

In “Godey’s” he had written criticisms in each number since the previous November, noticing Matthews, Mrs. Smith, Simms, Mrs. Hewitt, Mrs. [page 264:] Osgood, and Bryant; but “The Literati” was a series of papers, not called forth by current books, but a sort of “Autography” expanded, and prob ably made up all he had yet written of his projected work on our literature. “The Literati” proper, which began to appear in May and continued through six numbers, dealt with thirty-eight authors resident in New York, and Poe professed to give in the main not merely his own opinion of them, but that of literary society as expressed in private. The sketches themselves are distinctly the work of a magazinist, both in conception and execution; in fact, they are simply somewhat hurriedly recorded impressions of literary people and their works, interspersed, according to Poe’s inveterate habit, with extracts from, or paraphrases of, his old book-reviews since the time of the “Messenger.” Being written with perfect frankness, and in that spirit of oblivious indifference to what the world would say which had won a hearing for Poe’s criticism, the series was the literary hit of the season. Few of these characterizations (they include personal as well as literary qualities) are in any way humiliating to their subjects. None, it is true, not even that of Mrs. Osgood, is unreservedly laudatory; but if limitations of capacity are marked out sharply and freely, praise is, as a rule, generously given within the bounds. Against Lewis Gaylord Clark, of “The Knickerbocker,” Poe had an old grudge, and just at this time Briggs had succeeded [page 265:] to Fay and Griswold as the peculiar object of his spleen; but with these exceptions, although some of the nobodies might have been nettled at the cavalier manner in which their merits were circum scribed or themselves patronized, there were very few with any just cause for complaint, since Poe was not so much the prince of critics as to anticipate exactly the judgment of posterity by ignoring them. In respect to the more important ones, Willis, Halleck, and Margaret Fuller, his decisions were final and have been sustained. There was a good deal of discussion, however, among the disturbed mediocrities; Godey was implored by the honey-tongued and brow-beaten by the loud mouthed, but he refused to be intimidated by either method, as he assured the public in a card; and, in particular, Thomas Dunn English was roused to open combat.

This individual, whom Poe facetiously called “Thomas Dunn Brown,” was a doctor, lawyer, novelist, editor, and poet of twenty-seven years of age, whom Poe, despite his foolish disclaimer of personal acquaintance, had met in Philadelphia, and had allowed to lounge about his office and run errands for him when he was editing the “Broad way Journal.” No mortal ever held a pen who would not resent such a shameless exposure of his ears as was Poe’s article in this instance, — a sort of grotesque in criticism. English secured forth with the columns of the “Mirror” (which had [page 266:] changed hands), and poured out on Poe, June 23, a flood of scurrility; besides a plentiful use of billingsgate and the easy charge of intoxication, there was in particular a specific accusation of obtaining money under false pretenses and of down right forgery. Poe replied four days later in the Philadelphia “Saturday Gazette,” and exercised his powers of recrimination at a length and with an effect that makes one think of the lion and the jackal. Of course he confessed his poverty and his excesses, with the pitiful extenuation that the latter were the unavoidable result rather than the cause of his misfortune; but he exculpated himself from the charges affecting his integrity, and had he not in his turn indulged in intemperate personal abuse there would have been nothing to desire in his rejoinder. Poe also brought suit against the “Mirror,” and, no witnesses appearing to justify the libel, he was adjudged damages, February 17, 1847, in the sum of $225, with costs to the defendant.

Notwithstanding the wrath of a few manikins, Poe’s “Literati” was not a prose Dunciad; and the impression that his criticism in general was an anathema on American mediocrity is an entirely false one. Not infrequently, indeed, he exposed some fool’s folly with the raillery and zest of a boy’s untroubled enjoyment in the low comedy of the situation; now and then, in a more bitter mood, he could with deliberate leisure pull some insect [page 267:] of the hour to pieces, or impale a Bavius or two upon the highway. He looked on himself as a public executioner, and was proud of the office. On the whole, however, his commendation equaled, if it did not exceed, his condemnation, and more than one of those whom he extolled to the skies has long since sunk back to the dust. The peculiarity of his position was, not that he was an unjust judge, but that he was the only one; not that his censures were undeserved, but that he alone pronounced a sentence without fear or favor. He thus drew about himself a swarm of enemies; and as his life offered only too fair an opportunity they used their advantage to take revenge in slander, as did Dr. English, but in secret. In these critical decisions of Poe’s , speaking generally, he does not seem to have been himself actuated by any unworthy motive, any personal consideration of friendliness or enmity, or any hope of gain or fear of loss; if such matters affected his judgment, it was ordinarily either in an unconscious or an involuntary way. Now and then, as in the case of Griswold, he was stung into telling truth when he might otherwise have held his peace; or he apologized, as to Matthews, for the violence of some earlier critique, or lowered the key of his laudation when friendship ceased, as with Lowell. Worldly motives swayed his mind, now more, now less; personal feelings entered into his verdicts; but he was not governed by them. His open claim to impartiality, sincerity, and integrity [page 268:] seems to be sustained; or, if shaken at all, to be invalidated by the praise he gave to his feminine friends rather than by the contempt he poured out on his masculine foes.

It is thought in some quarters that Poe’s criticism, and particularly its destructive portions, was very valuable. It is even said that he raised the level of our current literature. The race of chameleon poets, however, is not yet extinct, and they feed on the green trees of Tennyson, Browning, and Swinburne as once on those of Moore, Mrs. Hemans, and Keats. Reputations are still made by the coteries of a publisher’s anteroom and sustained by judicious advertising. The motives that influence the editorial judgments of the press have changed but little in a generation. If, as is true, the mediocrities of our time are more clever in their imitation and more painstaking in their drudgery, this is rather to be ascribed to the general rise of the standard of literary excellence, due to the intellectual movement of the age, than to the influence of a single free lance like Poe. The good that criticism can do to the producers of literature is trifling; its work is to improve the popular taste, and to make the best that is written widely known and easily apprehensible; to authors it is, for many reasons, well-nigh useless. Destructive criticism of imaginative work, especially, is ordinarily futile, and in Poe’s case no exception need be made. The good he did was infinitesimal; it [page 269:] would have been far better to leave such work to the scythe of Time.

Of the excellence of Poe’s criticism in itself, however, there can be no question. He was the disciple of Coleridge; and, being gifted with some thing of Coleridge’s analytic powers, he applied the principles he thus derived with skill and effect. No one, too, could subject himself to so long a self-training, and become so perfect in his own subtle art, without developing a refined taste of the highest value in criticism. The test of his ability as a critic, the severest test to which a man can be put, is the quickness and certainty of his recognition of unknown genius. In this Poe succeeded; the rank he gave to the American poets, young and old (and in the case of the best of them he had only their earliest work to judge by), is the rank sustained by the issue, and his success in dealing with the English reputations of the future was not less marked. To Tennyson, Dickens, and Longfellow he brought early applause; Mrs. Browning, Lowell, and Hawthorne were foreknown by him when their names were still in doubt. It is no diminution of his just praise that he so far shared in human weakness as to obey an obscure jealousy, notably in Longfellow’s case; or to be misled by a prejudice, as with Emerson or any other transcendentalist; or to hail many a poetaster, particularly in petticoats, as of Apollo’s band. He was as extreme in eulogy as in denunciation; and, [page 270:] especially in the case of Southern writers, he some times indulged in so laudatory a strain as to be guilty of absurdity. His decisions in more than one instance, like those on Moore, and in a less degree on Dickens, were merely contemporary; and in other cases, like that of Home’s “Orion,” were esoteric and whimsical. His silence, too, regarding the great men of the past, such as Shakspere, and the unanimous report of his violent depreciation of them in conversation, must count in settling his own virtues as a critic. He was, it is easy to see now, prejudiced here and partial there; foolish, or interested, or wrong-headed; carping, or flattering, or contemptuous. Yet he was the first of his time to mark the limitations of the pioneer writers, such as Irving, Bryant, and Cooper, and to foresee the future of the younger men who have been mentioned; he was, too, though he originated no criterion, the first to take criticism from mere advertising, puffery, and friendship, and submit it to the laws of literary art. This was much to do, and in his lifetime, whatever were his deficiencies, was regarded as his great distinction; it was the more honorable because of the offense that was now and then bound to be given, even if Poe had been the wisest and kindest of men instead of the reckless, erratic, and unscholarly judge he was. For, to come to the rationale of the matter, it was by no means learning, in which he was a charlatan, nor inborn sense, nor intellectual honesty, nor moral [page 271:] insight, nor power of imaginative sympathy, that gave his criticism value, — in all these he was deficient; but it was merely the knowledge of the qualities and methods of artistic effect, which came to him in the development of his own genius under the controlling influence of Coleridge’s reason and imagination. His criticism is thus largely a series of illustrations of literary art as he himself practiced it.

For weeks before English’s libel Poe had been ill at Fordham, whither he had lately removed, and henceforth his constitution may be regarded as hopelessly broken. This premature exhaustion may be in part ascribed to continuous overwork, repeated disappointments, and the humiliations of poverty; but his shattered health must also be traced to the use of liquor, his indulgence in which, since, after his year of abstinence, he broke down in 1845, had been extreme. In addition to this cause, too, must be recorded the more insidious and mortal influence of the use of opium, which, vampire-like, had sucked the vitality out of the whole frame of his being, mental, moral, and physical.

The cottage to which he had retired in the spring of 1846, although at the best a mean dwelling, was the pleasantest retreat he had known. It was a one story and a half house, still standing on King’s Bridge Road, at the top of Fordham Hill. Within, on the ground-floor, were two small apartments, a kitchen and sitting-room; and above, up a narrow [page 272:] stairway, two others, one — Poe’s room — a low, cramped chamber, lighted by little square windows like port-holes, the other a diminutive closet of a bedroom, hardly large enough to lie down in. The furniture was of the simplest: in the clean, white-floored kitchen, says Mrs. Gove, who visited the family during this first summer, were a table, a chair, and a little stove; and in the other room, which was laid with checked matting, were only a light stand with presentation volumes of the Brownings upon it, some hanging shelves with a few other books ranged on them, and four chairs. Outside, however, the broad views, in contrast with the dwarfed interior, must have had, as is now the case, a fine spaciousness. The old cherry-trees are still rooted in the grassy turf, out of which crops here and there the granite of the underlying rock; and a stone’s throw to the east of the veranda, then as now overgrown with vines, rises the ledge itself, overhung by sighing pines, and looking off far across the meadows, woods, and villages, to the glimmer of ocean on the dim horizon. Of this little home in the pleasant country there are many reminiscences, curiously intermingling the beauty of nature with the charm of the three occupants. Mrs. Clemm, now over sixty, with her large, benevolent features and white hair, in a worn black dress, made upon all who saw her an impression of dignity, refinement, and especially of deep motherly devotion to her children; Virginia, at the age [page 273:] of twenty-five, retained her beauty, but the large black eyes and raven hair contrasted sadly with the white pallor of her face; Poe himself, poor, proud, and ill, anticipating grief, and nursing the bitterness that springs from helplessness in the sight of suffering borne by those dear to us, was restless and variable, the creature of contradictory impulses, alternating between the eagerness of renewed hope and the dull maze of the ever-recurring disappointment. Friends called on him, and found him anxious over the one great trouble of his poverty, or inspirited by the compliment of a letter from Mrs. Browning, or endeavoring to distract his mind with his pets, — a bobolink he had caught and caged, or a parrot some one had given him, or his favorite cat. If he went away to the city, he came back at once to his home; once, when he was detained, he sent a note to Virginia, which is unique in his correspondence: —

June 12, 1846.

MY DEAR HEART — My Dear Virginia — Our mother will explain to you why I stay away from you this night. I trust the interview I am promised will result in some substantial good for me — for your dear sake and hers — keep up your heart in all hopefulness, and trust yet a little longer. On my last great disappointment I should have lost my courage but for you — my little darling wife. You are my greatest and only stimulus now, to battle with this uncongenial, unsatisfactory, and ungrateful life.

I shall be with you to-morrow [illegible] P. M., and be [page 274:] assured until I see you I will keep in loving remembrance your last words, and your fervent prayer!

Sleep well and may God grant you a peaceful summer with your devoted

EDGAR.(1)

As the summer went on Poe grew no better, and daily Virginia failed and faded, and the resources of the household were being slowly reduced to the starving point. Autumn came, the snow and the cold and the winter seclusion, and affairs grew desperate; the wolf was already at the door when by happy chance this same Mrs. Gove, whose kind heart could prompt her to something better than her verses, called on the Poes, and found the dying wife in the summer sitting-room, which had been taken for her use. The scene requires her own description: —

“There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great-coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great useful ness. The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands, and her mother her feet. Mrs. Clemm was passionately fond of her daughter, and her distress on ac count of her illness and poverty and misery was dreadful to see.“(2) [page 275:]

On her return to New York, Mrs. Gove applied to Mrs. Maria Louise Shew, the daughter of a physician, who had given his child a medical education, and thus had helped to make her the useful friend of the poor to whom she devoted her life. Relief was immediately sent, and by Mrs. Shew’s efforts a subscription of sixty dollars was soon made up. “From the day this kind lady first saw the suffering family of the poet,” adds Mrs. Gove, whose narrative is here closely followed, “she watched over them as a mother watches over her babe. She saw them often, and ministered to the comfort of the dying and the living.”

Under the influence of this glimpse of kindliness, Poe roused his faculties to new work. The “Literati,” which had come to an end in October, was followed in the next month in “Godey’s” by a tale of Italian vengeance, in the traditional style, “The Cask of Amontillado;” but with this and an installment of “Marginalia” in the December “Graham’s” his publications for this year came to an end.

In December, much to his mortification, the necessitous condition of his family was made public by a paragraph in “The Express,” which appears to have been kindly meant, since it merely appealed to his friends in his behalf: —

“We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal [page 276:] affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. This is indeed a hard lot, and we hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.“(1)

Willis, who saw this notice, gave greater currency to the facts by an article in his own paper, “The Home Journal,” in which he made his friend’s destitution the text of a plea for an authors house of refuge. Poe, who felt humiliated by these disclosures, wrote an open letter to Willis, December 30, 1846, in which he tried hard to deny the actual misery of his condition, but only succeeded in forcing his pen to the guarded assertion that he had indeed been in want of money in consequence of his long illness, but that it was not al together true that he had materially suffered from privation beyond the extent of his capacity for suffering. This labored statement, however, which is given in nearly his exact words, was soon after wards privately acknowledged, in a letter to Mrs. Locke, of Lowell, who sent him some verses, and apparently followed them with more solid expressions of her interest, to be only an indulgence of his natural pride, which impelled him, he wrote, “to shrink from public charity, even at the cost of truth in denying those necessities which were but too real.“(2)

Within a month, however, all his new hopes and [page 277:] old troubles were lost sight of in view of the rapidly approaching death of his wife. On January 29, 1847, he wrote to Mrs. Shew, whose attention had been unremitting during all these winter weeks, the following note: —

KINDEST — DEAREST FRIEND, — My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain. May God grant her life until she sees you and thanks you once again! Her bosom is full to overflowing — like my own — with a boundless — inexpressible gratitude to you. Lest she may never see you more — she bids me say that she sends you her sweetest kiss of love and will die blessing you. But come oh come to morrow! Yes, I will be calm — everything you so nobly wish to see me. My mother sends you, also, her “warmest love and thanks.” She begs me to ask you, if possible, to make arrangements at home so that you may stay with us To-morrow night. I enclose the order to the Postmaster. Heaven bless you and farewell!

EDGAR A. POE.(1)

FORDHAM, Jan. 29, 47.

In response, Mrs. Shew called to take a last leave of the invalid, who asked her to read some letters from the second Mrs. Allan, exculpating Poe from causing any difficulty at his old home, and gave her Poe’s picture and his mother’s jewel-case as keepsakes. On the next day, Saturday, January 30, Virginia died. Her husband, wrapped in the military cloak that had once served to cover her, followed the body to the tomb, to which it was consigned in the presence of a few friends.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 204:]

1. Poe to Mrs. Clemm. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 206:]

1. Poe to Duane. MSS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 209:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 214:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 216:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 218:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 220:]

1. Evening Mirror, December 7, 1844.

2. Ingram, i. 248. The statement that Poe contributed translations from the French to the New Mirror from April, 1843, to its discontinuance (which is wrongly said to have taken place be fore Poe left Philadelphia), and signed them with his initials, rests on a negligent examination of the files. The translations referred to begin January 3, 1843 (i. 9), and are signed E. P.; they continue to the end, but afterwards they are also signed at the be ginning of the articles “By a Lady.” (For example, i. 307, 355, etc.) They are, moreover, from authors whom there is no evidence that Poe read.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 221:]

1. The author is indebted to an unpublished paper by Professor W. E. Griffis for the earliest mention of “The Raven,” which, on evidence satisfactory to Professor Griffis, was in the course of composition in the summers of 1842 and 1843. The legend, however, involves the assertion that Poe, at the time of his greatest poverty in Philadelphia, was visiting a pleasure resort near Saratoga Springs. Of this there is no documentary proof, and in the author’s opinion it is highly improbable; the story is therefore not included in the text.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 224:]

1. Evening Mirror, March 12, 1845.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 225:]

1. Evening Mirror, January 20, 1845.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 226:]

1. Briggs to Lowell, December 7, 1844. MS.

2. Briggs to Lowell, January 6, 1845. MS.

3. Briggs to Lowell, January 27, 1845. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 228:]

1. Briggs to Lowell. MS.

2. Briggs to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 229:]

1. Briggs to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 230:]

1. Evening Mirror, January 14, 1845.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 232:]

1. Southern Literary Messenger, November, 1849.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 234:]

1. Briggs to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 236:]

1. Briggs to Lowell, July 16, 1845. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 237:]

1. Briggs to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 238:]

1. Briggs to Lowell, August 21, 1845. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 239:]

1. Briggs to Lowell, October 13, 1845. MS.

2. Tales. By Edgar A. Poe. New York: Wiley and Putnam. 1845. Pp. 228. The contents are, in order: The Gold Bug, The Black Cat, Mesmeric Revelations, Lionizing, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Descent into the Maelstrom, The Colloquy of Monos and Una, The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion, The Murders of the Rue Morgue, the Mystery of Marie Roget, The Purloined Letter, The Man in the Crowd.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 240:]

1. Poe to ——. Ingram, ii. 24.

2. Signed “Littleton Barry.”

3. Signed P.

4. Signed J.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 241:]

1. Unsigned.

2. Signed + +.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 242:]

1. The Broadway Journal, November 1, 1845.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 244:]

1. Recollections of a Busy Life. By Horace Greeley: pp. 196, 197.

2. Poe to Neilson Poe, August 8, 1845. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 245:]

1. Griswold, xxi., xxii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 246:]

1. Poe to George Poe, November 30, 1845. MS.

2. Signed “Littleton Barry.”

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 248:]

1. The Raven and Other Poems. By Edgar A. Poe. New York: Wiley and Putnam. 1845. The contents were, in order, The Raven, Valley of Unrest, Bridal Ballad, The Sleeper, The Coliseum, Lenore, Catholic Hymn, Israfel, Dream-land, Sonnet To Zante, City in the Sea, To One in Paradise, Eulalie — A Song, To F—— ’s S. O——d, To F——, Sonnet — Silence, The Conqueror Worm, The Haunted Palace, Scenes from “Politian.” Then followed, with the foot-note still published, Poems in Youth: Sonnet To Science, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, A Dream, Romance, Fairy-land, To ——, To the River ——, The Lake — To ——, Song, To Helen. It is scarcely necessary to add that the youthful poems are not printed exactly “verbatim, without alteration from the original edition,” but the changes, nevertheless, are not important.

2. Works, i. 4.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 259:]

1. Works, ii. 65.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 260:]

1. Griswold, liii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 261:]

1. Griswold, lii.-liii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 263:]

1. Griswold, lii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 274:]

1. Ingram, ii. 88, 89.

2. Ingram, ii. 97.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 276:]

1. Griswold, xl.

2. Griswold, xli.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 277:]

1. Ingram, ii. 107.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - EAP, 1885] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (G. E. Woodberry) (Chapter VI)