Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 07,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 62-78


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[page 62:]

CHAPTER VII.

EASTWARD HO!*

TOWARDS the end of June, 1827, Edgar Poe would appear to have left the United States for Europe. It is very problematical whether he ever reached his presumed destination, the scene of the Greco-Turkish warfare, or ever saw aught, save in his “mind’s eye,” of

“The glory that was Greece,

And the grandeur that was Rome.”

The poems which he wrote either during his absence abroad or directly after his return home (such as “Al Aaraaf” and the “Sonnet to Zante”), contain allusions to Greece and its scenery that, in some instances, appear to be the result of personal reminiscence or impression; but with a mind of such identificative power as was Poe’s, these coincidences cannot be allowed to count for ranch. [page 63:] Hannay says — and how many will agree with him? “I like to think of Poe in the Mediterranean, with his passionate love of the beautiful, — in ‘the years of April blood,’ — in a climate which has the perpetual luxury of a bath — he must have had all his perceptions of the lovely intensified wonderfully. What he did there we have now no means of discovering.“* Poe had, undoubtedly, been excited by the heroic efforts the insurgent Greeks were making to throw off the yoke of their Turkish oppressors, and was, probably, emulous of Byron, whose example and Philhellenic poesy had aroused the chivalric aspirations of the boys of both continents, and whose writings, certainly, strongly influenced our hero’s own muse at this epoch of his life.

Powell states that it was in conjunction with an acquaintance, Ebenezer Berling [[Burling]], that the youthful poet formed the design of participating in the Hellenic revolution, and conjectures that Poe went alone in consequence of his companion’s heart failing him.† Whatever may have been the truth with regard to Berling [[Burling]], at that time the lad’s most intimate and most trusted acquaintance, it must be remembered that he — unlike Poe the orphan — was a widow’s only son, and, doubtless, in delicate health, as he died not long after his friend’s departure. [page 64:]

A most interesting and suggestive memento of the youthful crusader’s enthusiasm is to be found in an unknown translation by him of the famous “Hymn in honour of Harmodius and Aristogeiton.” As an excuse for the omission of the latter hero’s name, Poe pleads the impossibility of making it scan in English verse. If this juvenile version of these oft-translated verses does not display any very great poetic merit, it is at least as good, and, indeed, much better than many other renderings of the “Hymn” by well-known bards:

“Wreathed in myrtle, my sword I‘ll conceal,

Like those champions, devoted and brave,

When they plunged in the tyrant their steel,

And to Athens deliverance gave.

“Beloved heroes! your deathless souls roam

In the joy breathing isles of the blest;

Where the mighty of old have their home —

Where Achilles and Diomed rest.

“In fresh myrtle my blade I‘ll entwine,

Like Harmodius, the gallant and good,

When he made at the tutelar shrine

A libation of Tyranny’s blood.

“Ye deliverers of Athens from shame —

Ye avengers of Liberty’s wrongs!

Endless ages shall cherish your fame,

Embalmed in their echoing songs.” [page 65:]

Edgar Poe was absent from America on his Hellenic journey about eighteen months. The real adventures of his expedition have never, it is believed, been published. That he reached England is probable, although in the account of his travels, derived from his own dictation, that country was not alluded to any more than was the story of his having reached St. Petersburg, and there having been involved in difficulties that necessitated ministerial aid to extricate him. The latter incident is now stated to have occurred to his brother, William Henry Leonard,* whilst Edgar himself, it has been suggested by a writer claiming personal knowledge of him, resided for some time in London, formed the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt and Theodore Hook, and, like them, lived by literary labour.

According to Poe’s own story — which apparently accounts only for a portion of his time - he arrived, eventually, at a certain seaport in France. Here lie was drawn into a quarrel about a lady, and in a fight which ensued was wounded by his antagonist, a much more skilful swordsman than he was. Taken to his lodgings, and, possibly, ill tended, he fell into a fever. A poor woman, who attended to his needs and pitied him, made his case known to a Scotch lady of position, who was visiting the town in the hope of [page 66:] persuading a prodigal brother to relinquish his evil ways and return home with her. This lady came to see the wounded stranger, and for thirteen weeks had him cared for, providing for all his wants, including the attendance of a skilled nurse, whose place, indeed, she often took herself. Whilst Poe was in a precarious condition she visited him daily, and even persuaded her brother to come and see the young Englishman, as his language led them to believe he was. When the patient became convalescent he was, naturally, intensely grateful to his generous benefactor. As the only means he possessed at that time of showing his gratitude he wrote a poem to her, which he entitled “Holy Eyes,” with reference to the trust, sympathy, and faith which he deemed her blue eyes typical of. Indeed, according to Poe’s description, this lady’s eyes were her chief personal attraction, she being otherwise plain, large-featured, and old maidish. Owing to the peculiarity of her position in this foreign seaport, she did not wish her name made public, and impressed this upon the youthful poet. She made him promise to return to America — and perhaps supplied the means for him to do so — and adopt a profession, in which she expressed a hope of some day hearing that he had become famous.

During his stay in France, so runs Poe’s narration, he wrote a novel, in which his own adventures were [page 67:] described under the garb of fiction. The manuscript of this story he carried back with him to America, and retained it in his possession until, at least, some few years before his death. When asked why he had not published it, he replied that a French version of it had been published, and bad been accredited to Eugene Sue, but that he would not sanction its publication in English, because it was too sensational; that it was not to his taste; that it had too much of the “yellow cover novel style” for him to be proud of it, and, moreover, that it contained “scenes and pictures so personal, that it would have made him many enemies among his kindred, who hated him for his vanity and pride already, and in some respects very justly — the faults of his early education.” The truth in his story, he asserted, was yet more terrible than the fiction. “The Life of an Artist at Home and Abroad” was the title by which Poe at one time designated this youthful novel; it was written entirely in the third person, and was pronounced by its author to be “commonplace.”

Such is the story dictated by Poe from what, it was deemed at the time, might be his deathbed. Whether it was fact, or fact and fiction deliriously interwoven, or mere fiction, invented in such a spirit of mischief as, like Byron, he frequently indulged in at the expense of his too inquisitive questioners, is, at [page 68:] this late date, difficult to decide. As he told the tale to one whom he trusted, so it is here recounted.

After his long absence from home, if Mr. Allan’s residence may so be termed, Poe reached Richmond safely in the beginning of March 1829, with little besides a trunk load of books and manuscripts. His adopted mother had died during his absence: unfortunately he arrived too late to take a last farewell of her, she having been interred the day before his arrival. Mrs. Allan was buried in the family grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery, and a stone bearing the following inscription was erected over her remains: —

Sacred

to the Memory of

FRANCES KEELING ALLAN,

who departed

this transitory life

on the Morning of the 28th of

February 1829.

This Monument is erected by

JOHN ALLAN, her Husband,

in testimony of his gratitude for her

unabated affection to him,

her zeal to discharge her domestic duties,

and the fervour she manifested, both by

precept and example,

in persuading all to trust in the

promises of the Gospel.

Apparently, the deceased lady had exercised conciliatory [page 69:] influence in the Allan household, indeed, it is stated it was not unfrequently needed, and the poor tempest-tossed youth — who in after life always referred to her with affection — soon had to experience the effects of her loss. Mr. Allan does not appear to have manifested much pleasure at the prodigal’s return, and it was not long before Poe again departed. He visited some of his paternal relatives, and is believed to have inspired one of his uncles, probably Mr. George Poe, with a belief in his genius. This relative seems to have taken some interest in his nephew’s welfare, and at this time wrote to the late John Neal to solicit his confidential opinion as to the youth’s poetic abilities. The reply was not altogether unfavourable, and the consequence of it was that Poe wrote to Neal, and proposed to publish a volume of poems dedicated to him. This proposition Neal sought to discourage, so far as regarded the intended dedication, contending that his unpopularity in the United States might injure the sale of the book. This remonstrance was not calculated to have much effect upon one of Poe’s disposition — in fact, when shortly after this he published a new version of “Tamerlane,” he dedicated it to his first literary correspondent.

After a short absence, the poet returned once more to Richmond, and it is within the recollection of Mr. [page 70:] Bolling, his fellow-student at the University, that he accidentally met Poe the second night after he got back. The wanderer gave him a long account of the hardships he had had to endure, and what shifts he had been put to for a living, remarking that he had, as the only alternative for relief, betaken himself to authorship. The publication of “Al Aaraaf” was one result of this exertion. The poem, he informed his old friend, was then on sale at Sanxy’s, a bookseller of Richmond, and he desired him to call there and obtain as many copies as he wished, adding, that should Bolling meet with any of their old college mates who would care to see the volume, he would like them presented with a copy; only it was to be presented as coming from Bolling, and not as from the author. The following day Poe accompanied his friend to Sanxy’s store, gave him a copy of the book in question, and left the requisite instructions with the bookseller for Mr. Bolling to have as many more copies as he might require.

Previous to the publication of this, his first acknowledged collection of poems, Edgar Poe, as already remarked, wrote from Baltimore to John Neal, who was then editing The Yankee, in order to obtain his candid opinion of the forthcoming volume, sending him specimens of the contents. Through the columns of his paper, the editor replied, “If E. A. P. of Baltimore, whose lines about Heaven — though he professes [page 71:] to regard them as altogether superior to any in the whole range of American poetry, save two or three trifles referred to, — are, though nonsense, rather exquisite nonsense, would but do himself justice, he might a beautiful, and perhaps a magnificent poem. is a good deal to justify such a hope in —

Dim vales and shadowy floods —

And cloudy-looking woods;

Whose forms we can‘t discover,

For the trees that drip all over.

. . . . .

The moonlight . . . . falls

Over hamlets, over halls,

Wherever they may be,

O‘er the strange woods, o‘er the sea,

O‘er spirits on the wing,

O‘er every drowsy thing,

And buries them up quite

In a labyrinth of light.

And then, how deep! Oh deep,

Is the passion of their sleep.’

We have no room for others.”

In response to this praise — this faint first recognition of his ability to do something meritorious — Poe’s gratitude and craving for sympathy prompted him to send the following letter: —

“I am young — not yet twenty — am a poet — if deep worship of all beauty can make me one-and wish to be so in the common meaning of the word. I would give the [page 72:] world to embody one half the ideas afloat in my imagination. (By the way, do you remember, or did you ever read, the exclamation of Shelley about Shakespeare, ‘What a number of ideas must have been afloat before such an author could arise!’) I appeal to you as a man that loves the same beauty which I adore — the beauty of the natural blue sky and the sunshiny earth — there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother. It is not so much that they love one another, as that they both love the same parent — their affections are always running in the same direction — the same channel, and cannot help mingling. I am, and have been from my childhood, an idler. It cannot therefore be said that —

“ ‘I left a calling for this idle trade,

A duty broke — a father disobeyed’ —

for I have no father — nor mother.

“I am about to publish a volume of ‘Poems’ — the greater part written before I was fifteen. Speaking about ‘Heaven’ the editor of The Yankee says, ’ He might write a beautiful, if not a magnificent poem’ — (the very first words of encouragement I ever remember to have heard). I am very certain that as yet I have not written either — but that I can, I will take my oath — if they will give me time.

“The poems to be published are ‘Al Aaraaf,’ I Tamerlane,’ one about four, the other about three hundred lines, with smaller pieces. ‘Al Aaraaf’ has some good poetry and much extravagance, which I have not had time to throw away.

“‘Al Aaraaf’ is a tale of another world — the star discovered by Tycho Brahe, which appeared and disappeared so suddenly — or rather it is not a tale at all. I will insert an extract about the palace of its presiding deity, in which you will see that I have supposed many of the lost sculptures of our world to [page 73:] have flown (in spirit) to the star ‘Al Aaraaf’ — a delicate place more suited to their divinity:

“ ‘Upreared upon such height arose a pile,’ &c.”*

After this the youthful poet quotes another passage of eight lines, beginning “Silence is the voice of God,” and ending with “And the red woods are withering in the sky,” and then two lengthy passages from “Tamerlane,” and the following fourteen lines from an untitled poem: —

If my peace hath flown away

In a night — or in a day

In a vision — or in none

Is it therefore the less gone?

I am standing ‘mid the roar

Of a weather-beaten shore,

And I hold within my hand

Some particles of sand

How few! and how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep

My early hopes? No — they

Went gloriously away,

Like lightning from the sky

At once — and so will I.”

In acknowledgment of this communication, John Neal gave Poe generous notice, at the same time letting him know that, in his opinion, if the remainder of “Al Aaraaf” and “Tamerlane” was as good as the [page 74:] extracts given, with all their faults, to say nothing of the more valuable portions, their author “deserved to stand high, very high, in the estimation of the shining brotherhood.” Whether Poe would do so, however, he opined must depend not so much upon his present as upon his future worth, and he exhorted him to attempts yet loftier and more generous, alluding, — these, of course, being Neal’s own words, — “to the stronger properties of the mind — to the magnanimous determination that enables a youth to endure the present, whatever the present may be, in the hope or rather in the belief — the fixed, unwavering belief — that in the future lie will find his reward.”

It is, of course, quite impossible to imagine what view the young poet took of Neal’s friendly criticism, but one thing is certain, and that is, that the literary correspondence thus cordially commenced continued in a similar sympathetic strain until Poe’s death. The second printed but first published volume of Poe, to which the above correspondence refers, bears the following title-page:

AL AARAAF,

TAMERLANE, AND MINOR POEMS.

By Edgar A. Poe.

Baltimore: Hatch and Dunning.

1829. [page 75:]

This volume — published, apparently, at the close of the year — is stated to have been for private circulation. It contains only sixty-six pages, and many of these are merely extra leaves and bastard titles. The real contents include “Al Aaraaf,” substantially as now printed, and prefixed to it, but unnamed, the sonnet now styled “To Science.” The present version of “Tamerlane” — then dedicated to John Neal — follows, and thereafter succeed ten “Miscellaneous Poems.” These included the lines now known as “Romance,” but then called “Preface;” the song, “I saw thee on thy bridal day;” “The Lake,” from the suppressed volume of 1827, and seven other pieces. Six of these latter are, save some slight variations, as still published, but in the following lines, “To M—— ,” appear three stanzas subsequently omitted, as well as a few trifling alterations. The whole poem, as it stands in the 1829 edition, reads thus

“Oh! I care not that my earthly lot

Hath little of earth in it —

That years of love have been forgot

In the fever of a minute.

“I heed not that the desolate

Are happier, sweet, than I —

But that you meddle with my fate

Who am a passer-by. [page 76:]

“It is not that my founts of bliss

Are gushing strange! with tears

Or that the thrill of a single kiss

Hath palsied many years

“ ’Tis not that the flowers of twenty springs,

Which have withered as they rose,

Lie dead on my heart-strings

With the weight of an age of snows.

“Nor that the grass — oh! may it thrive!

On my grave is growing or grown —

But that, while I am dead, yet alive

I cannot be, lady, alone.”

These somewhat indefinite stanzas are typical of the whole of the fugitive pieces in the little book, and are, as usual, characteristic of his life and idiosyncrasies; — morbid sensibility to kindness, haunting regrets for an unprofited past, and a hopeless, utterly despairing dread of the future. These “Miscellanous Poems,” labelled —

“My nothingness — my wants —

My sins — and my contritions” —

are hinted at, in “Romance,” as “forbidden things” in ordinary hours, and were, but too probably, occupations interdicted by his godfather. But from some suppressed lines in another piece, inscribed to an unknown person, it is clear that no amount of authority would [page 77:] have constrained him from pursuing his own subjects. He exclaims, after bewailing his early hopes, and alluding to an intention of disappearing altogether:

“So young! ah no — not now —

Thou hast not seen my brow,

But they tell thee I am proud —

They lie — they lie aloud —

My bosom beats with shame

At the paltriness of name

With which they dare combine

A feeling such as mine —

Nor Stoic ? I am not

In the tenor of my lot

I laugh to think how poor

That pleasure “to endure!”

What! shade of Zeno! — I!

Endure! — no — no — defy.”

And that he did defy all parental, or assumed parental, power to suppress his poetic aspirations, it is easy to comprehend. But in “Spirits of the Dead” a more faithful representation of his self-styled “funereal mind” is to be found — a very portrayal in one stanza, wherein he alludes to the living being overshadowed by the will of the dead. It was, indeed, a never-ending phantasy with him, that death was not absolute separation from life — that the dead were not wholly heedless of the deeds of the living.

But the two long poems constituted the chief value [page 78:] of the 1829 edition. “Al Arâf,” or “Al Aaraaf,” as the poet preferred styling it, is designed by the Mohammedan imagination as an abode wherein a gentle system of purgatory is instituted for the benefit of those who, though too good for hell, are not fitted for heaven —

“Apart from heaven’s eternity — and yet how far from hell!”

Poe chose to locate this intermediate region in a star discovered, or rather examined, by Tycho Brahe (and which it is now conjectured must have been a sun in course of conflagration), that appeared suddenly in the heavens, and after having rapidly attained a brilliancy surpassing that of Jupiter, Gradually disappeared and has never since been seen.* This poem of “Al Aaraaf” abounds in happy and melodious passages, and has never yet received its due weed of praise: some portions of the lyrical intermedial chant are exquisitely and musically onomatopocial in construction. The revised version of “Tamerlane,” too, given in this volume, is in every respect a great advance upon the previous printed draft: besides its enhanced poetic value, it is also far superior as a worn of art, improved punctuation and indented lines affording evidence of more skilled handicraft than that employed upon the former copy.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 62:]

* This account of Poe’s adventures in Europe is derived from memoranda made at his own request — during a dangerous illness which it was deemed might end fatally — shortly after his wife’s decease. There does not appear to be any reason for doubting the accuracy of this any more than of any other of the poet’s statements. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 63:]

* J. Hannay, The Life and Genius of Edgar Allan Poe, 1852.

† Powell, Living Poets of America, 1850.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 66:]

* Vide Appendix B.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 73:]

* Here follow 32 lines from the poem of “Al Aaraaf.” — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 78:]

* Vide Mr. R. Proctor’s Myths and Marvels of Astronomy.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 07)