Text: Various, “Dedication of the Monument,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume, Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877, pp. 43-64


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[page 43, unnumbered:]

DEDICATION OF THE MONUMENT.
CEREMONIES OF THE OCCASION.

THE ceremonies connected with the dedication of the Poe Monument took place on November 17, 1875. The main hall of the Western Female High School was occupied by a large audience, ladies composing the major portion, some time before the hour set for the beginning of the exercises. The platform at the head of the hall was filled with a number of gentlemen, Principals of the High Schools, those who were to take part in the exercises, gentlemen who had been acquaintances or associates of the poetic genius in honor of whose memory, the meeting was held, and other invited guests. Among them were Prof. John Hewitt, once editor of the Saturday Visitor, in which Poe’s weird story of “The Manuscript Found in a Bottle” first appeared; Dr. John H. Snodgrass [[Joseph Evans Snodgrass]], also a former editor of the Visitor; Prof. N. C. Brooks, who edited the American Magazine [[American Museum]], in which some of Poe’s earliest productions appeared, and Prof. Joseph Clarke, a very venerable gentleman, whose school at Richmond, Virginia, had been attended by Poe when a boy. Among others on the platform were Prof. J. C. Kinear, of Pembroke Academy; Dr. N. H. Morison, Provost of Peabody Institute; John T. Morris, Esq., President of the School Board; the Rev. Dr. Julius E. Grammer, Judge Garey, Joseph Merrefield, Esq., Dr. John G. Morris, Neilson Poe, Esq., Icbabod Jean, Esq., Summerfield Baldwin, Joseph J. Stewart, Esq., Professors Thayer and Hollingshead, [page 44:] John T. Ford, Esq., George Small, Esq., the Faculty of the Baltimore City College, M. A. Newell, State School Superintendent, as well as those who were to take part in the proceedings. The exercises began shortly after two o’clock with the performance of the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” of Verdi, by the Philharmonic Society, who occupied raised seats in the rear of the hall, under the direction of Professor Remington Fairlamb.

At the close of the music Prof. William Elliott, Jr., President of the Baltimore City College, delivered the following address, containing

THE HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT

culminating in the exercises of the day:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN — I purpose, in discharging the duty assigned me on this occasion, to give a brief historical sketch of the movement which culminates to-day in the dedication of a monument to the memory of the great American poet, Edgar Allan Poe, the first and only memorial expression of the kind ever given to an American on account of literary excellence.

This extraordinary and unique genius, born in Boston, January 20th [[19th]], 1809, during a brief sojourn of his parents in that place, died on the 7th of October, 1849, in this city, which is undoubtedly entitled to claim him as one of her distinguished sons. Two days thereafter, on the 9th of October, his mortal remains were interred in the cemetery attached to the Westminster Presbyterian Church, adjoining the building in which we are now assembled.

In this connection, acting as a truthful chronicler, I deem it proper to state some facts in relation to the circumstances of the interment. The reliability of the statement I shall now make is sufficiently attested by the evidence of at least three of the gentlemen present on that occasion — possibly the only three who yet survive.

I have been informed that the day was, for the season, more than ordinarily unpleasant, the weather being raw and cold; indeed, just such a day as it would have been more comfortable to spend within than without doors.

The time of the interment was about four o’clock in the afternoon; the attendance of persons at the grave, possibly a consequence of the state of the weather, was limited to eight, certainly to not more than nine, persons, one of these being a lady.

Of the number known to have been present were Hon. Z. Collins Lee, a classmate of the deceased at the University of Virginia; Henry Herring, Esq., [page 45:] a connection of Mr. Poe; Rev. W. T. D. Clemm, a relative of Mr. Poe’s wife; our well-known fellow-citizen, Neilson Poe, Esq., a cousin of the poet; Edmund Smith, Esq., and wife, the latter being a first cousin of Poe, and at this time his nearest living relative in this city, and possibly Dr. Snodgrass, the editor of the Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]], the paper in which the prize-story written by Poe first made its appearance. The clergyman who officiated at the grave was Rev. W. T. D. Clemm, already mentioned, a member of the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who read the impressive burial service used by that denomination of Christians, after which all that was mortal of Edgar Allan Poe was gently committed to its mother-earth.

Another item which it may not be inappropriate to record in this historical compend, I will now mention, namely, that George W. Spence, who officiated as sexton at the burial of Mr. Poe, is the same person who, after the lapse of twenty-six years, has superintended the removal of his remains, and those of his loving and beloved mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, and their reinterment in the lot in which the monument now stands.

For a number of years after the burial of the poet, no steps seem to have been taken towards marking his grave, until at length a stone was prepared for this purpose by order of Neilson Poe, Esq. Unfortunately, however, this stone never served the purpose for which it was designed. A train of cars accidentally ran into the establishment of Mr. Hugh Sisson, at which place the stone was at the time, and so damaged it as to render it unfit to be used as intended.

Another series of years intervened, but yet no movement to mark the grave. True, numerous articles made their appearance at short intervals during that time in different newspapers, but the authors of those articles were mostly of that class of persons who employ their energies in finding fault with others, totally oblivious of the fact that they themselves no less deserved the censure they so liberally mete out to others.

“Poe’s neglected grave” was the stereotyped expression of these modern Jeremiahs. Nor were they content to indulge in lamentations; not unfrequently our good city was soundly berated because of its alleged want of appreciation of the memory of one whose ashes, they intimated, had he been an Englishman, instead of filling an unmarked grave in an obscure cemetery, would have had accorded to them a place in that grand old abbey which England has appropriated as a mausoleum for her distinguished dead.

But the “neglected grave” was not always to remain such. At a regular meeting of the Public School Teachers’ Association, held in this hall, October 7, 1865, Mr. John Basil, Jr., Principal of No. 8 Grammar School, offered a paper, of which the following is a copy:

Whereas, It has been represented to certain members of the Association that the mortal remains of Edgar Allan Poe are interred in the cemetery of [page 46:] the Westminster Church without even so much as a stone to mark the spot; therefore,

Resolved, That a committee of five be appointed by the President of this Association to devise some means best adapted in their judgment to perpetuate the memory of one who has contributed so largely to American literature.”

This resolution was unanimously adopted, and a committee, consisting of Messrs. Basil, Baird, and J. J. G. Webster, Miss Veeder and Miss Wise, appointed to carry out the purpose named.

This committee reported in favor of the erection of a monument, and recommended that measures be at once taken to secure the funds necessary to accomplish this object. This recommendation was heartily endorsed by the association, and without delay the committee entered upon the work of raising the funds.

In this work the young ladies of the Western Female High School took an active, and, as will be seen, a successful part. Two literary entertainments were given under the superintendence of Miss S. S. Rice, in 1865, to the proceeds of which were added a gift from Prof. Charles Davies, of New York, and one from the young ladies of Troy Female Seminary. The amount in the treasurer’s hands, on March 23, 1871, was $587.02. The enthusiasm that characterised the undertaking at the outset seemed now to have greatly abated, and serious thoughts were consequently entertained of abandoning the project. At this juncture a new committee, consisting of Messrs. Elliott, Kerr and Hamilton, Miss Rice and Miss Baer, was appointed to consider the matter.

On April 15, 1872, this committee reported as follows: “First, resolved, that the money now in the hands of the treasurer of the ‘Poe Memorial Fund’ be appropriated to the erection of a monument, the same to be placed over Poe’s remains. Second, that a committee of five be appointed by the President, with power to act as stated in the first resolution.” These resolutions were adopted, and the committee therein provided for appointed, as follows: Wm. Elliott, Jr., A. S. Kerr, Alexander Hamilton, Miss S. S. Rice, and Miss E. A. Baer. September 2, 1874, this committee received from the estate of Dr. Thomas D. Baird, deceased, the late treasurer of the “Poe Memorial Fund,” $627.55, the amount of principal and interest to that date, which was immediately deposited in the Chesapeake Bank, of this city. Believing that this amount could be increased to $1000 by donations from some of our fellow citizens who favored the project, the committee applied to Mr. George A. Frederick, architect of the City Hall, for a design of a monument to cost about that sum.

Mr. Frederick in due time submitted a design “at once simple, chaste and dignified,” but requiring for its realisation much more than the amount [page 47:] included in the expectations of the committee. Moreover, a new feature was now introduced, that of placing a medallion likeness of the poet on one of the panels of the monument, which would still further increase the cost. With a view of determining whether the amount necessary to complete the monument according to the proportions it had now assumed could be raised, applications were made to a number of our citizens for contributions. From one of acknowledged aesthetic taste a check of $100 was promptly received, and $152 were given in small sums.

The known liberality of Mr. George W. Childs, of Philadelphia, formerly one of our fellow-townsmen, induced the Chairman of the committee to drop him a note on the subject. Within twenty-four hours a reply was received from that gentleman expressive of his willingness to make up the estimated deficiency of $650.

The necessary amount having now been secured, the committee proceeded to place the construction and erection of the monument in the hands of Mr. Hugh Simon, his proposal being the most liberal one received. How faithfully he has executed his commission will be seen when the covering that now veils the monument is removed. No one so well as the Chairman of the committee knows how anxious Mr. Sisson has been to meet even more than the expectations of those most concerned. To his generous liberality are we largely indebted for the reproduction of the classic lineaments of the poet in the beautiful and highly artistic medallion that adds so much to the attractiveness of the monument.

To most of those present, I presume, it is known that the lot in which the monument is now located is not the one in which it was first placed. In deference to what was considered by the committee the popular wish, the monument was removed from its first location to its present one. The remains of Mr. Poe, and also those of his mother-in-law, were, as before intimated, removed at the same time. The new lot was secured mainly through the efforts of Mr. John T. Morris, President of the School Board, to whom and to all others who have in any way contributed to the consummation of this undertaking, I wish here, on behalf of the committee, to render thanks.*

In conclusion, allow me to congratulate all concerned that Poe’s grave is no longer a neglected one[[.]]

Upon the conclusion of Professor Elliott’s address, which was listened to with deep interest, Miss Sara S. Rice was introduced to the audience. To this lady, well known to the public from her elocutionary attainments, the greatest possible credit is due for the [page 48:] successful completion of the enterprise. The first money raised for the erection of the monument was through her personal efforts, and the entire movement, from its inception to the close, has enjoyed the benefit of her unremitting attention and effort. Miss Rice read various letters from poets and others, in response to invitations to be present on the occasion. (These will be found in another part of this volume.)

After the conclusion of the letters, the following poem, contributed by the well-known dramatic critic and littérateur, Mr. William Winter, was read by Miss Rice with exquisite delicacy and utterance, and received with a burst of applause:

AT POE’S GRAVE.

Cold is the pæan honor sings,

And chill is glory’s icy breath,

And pale the garland memory brings

To grace the iron doors of death.

 

Fame’s echoing thunders, long and loud,

The pomp of pride that decks the pall,

The plaudits of the vacant crowd —

One word of love is worth them all.

 

With dews of grief our eyes are dim;

Ah, let the tear of sorrow start,

And honor, in ourselves and him,

The great and tender human heart!

 

Through many a night of want and woe

His frenzied spirit wandered wild —

Till kind disaster laid him law,

And Heaven reclaimed its wayward child.

 

Through many a year his fame has grown, —

Like midnight, vast, like starlight sweet, —

Till now his genius fills a throne,

And nations marvel at his feet.

 

One meed of justice long delayed,

One crowning grace his virtues crave; —

Ah, take, thou great and injured shade,

The love that sanctifies the grave! [page 49:]

 

God’s mercy guard in peaceful sleep,

The sacred dust that slumbers here;

And, while around this tomb we weep,

God bless, for us, the mourner’s tear!

 

And may his spirit, hovering nigh,

Pierce the dense cloud of darkness through,

And know, with fame that cannot die,

He has the world’s affection too!

The Philharmonic Society then rendered the grand chorus, “He Watcheth over Israel” from the “Elijah” of Mendelssohn, with fine effect.

ADDRESS UPON THE GENIUS AND LITERARY CHARACTER OF POE.

Prof. H. E. Shepherd was then introduced to the audience and delivered the following address:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN — It is my purpose to speak of Edgar A. Poe principally as a poet and as a man of genius. I shall abstain, for the most part, from personal incidents or biographical details. These, though not devoid of interest, properly pertain to the historian of literature or to the biographer. Let his “strange eventful history” be reserved for some American Boswell, Masson or Morley.

Edgar A. Poe was born in 1809, the same year with Alfred Tennyson, the present Poet-laureate, and with Mrs. Browning, the most gifted poetess of any age. The third great era in English literature had then fairly commenced. The glory of the elder day was revived. The delusive splendor that had so long gilded the Augustan age of Anne paled before the comprehensive culture, the marvellous intellectual expansion that distinguished the first thirty years of the present century. The spirit of poesy, no longer circumscribed by the arbitrary and enervating procedures or Dryden’s contemplated academy, ranged in unchecked freedom over seas and continents, arousing the buried forms of mediæval civilisation, the lay of the minstrel, the lyric of the troubadour, the ancient splendor of the Arthurian cycle. One day was as a thousand years in the growth and advancement of the human mind. Edgar was in his childhood when the Georgian era had attained the full meridian of its greatness. He spent five years at school in England, from 1816 to 1821. During this interval little is known of his personal history, save what he has left us is the story of “William Wilson,” in which he depicts, with a power of [page 50:] vivid delineation worthy of the best days of De Quincey, his impressions of the school and its surroundings. We may feel assured, however, that his mind was rapidly unfolding, and with that keen susceptibility characteristic of the dawning intellect of youth, acquiring a permanent coloring from the wonderful drama that was enacting around him. The term of Edgar’s school-life in England was a period of intense poetical activity and creative power, heroic emprise, knightly valor and brilliant achievement. The atmosphere was vocal with the strains of songsters, whose notes make as sweet music as when they fell for the first time upon the ears of our youthful poet, and aroused him to the consciousness of poetic power. Alfred Tennyson was seven years of age when Edgar arrived in England, and during the time of Edgar’s school-life at Stokes was spending his play-hours with Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur upon his knees, musing upon the faded splendors of the Table Ronde, and looking forward, with prophetic vision, to the time when Lancelot, Arthur, Percival, and Galahad should regain their ancient sway, with more than their ancient renown as the mythical heroes of the British race. Mrs. Browning, and Arthur Hallam, the hero of “In Memoriam,” were in their childhood; Byron, Scott, Shelley and Keats were in the zenith of their fame, and the English tongue had not been illustrated by so brilliant a constellation of poets since “the spacious times of great Elizabeth.” It were difficult to imagine that this constellation did not exert an inspiring influence upon the genius and temperament of our youthful poet — an influence which must have in some degree determined his future career. He must have listened with that exquisite sympathy of which the poetic temperament alone is capable, to the mournful story of Keats, the “young Lycidas” of our poetic history. A strange resemblance in intellectual constitution may be discerned between these wayward children of genius — the same deep taint of Celtic melancholy; the same enthusiastic worship of supernal beauty; the same relentless struggle with the immutability of fact. The delicately wrought sensibilities of Keats, who “could feel the daisies growing over him,” strikingly recalls the memory of our own poet, who imagined that he could “distinctly hear the darkness as it stole over the horizon.” “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” was the animating principle of the genius of the one and the art of the other. In 1822, Edgar, then in his fourteenth year, returned to his native land. He attained to manhood at a time when, by a transition familiar in the history of every literature, the supremacy was reverting from poetry to prose. The Romanic fervor, the Spenserian symphonies of our last great poetic era, were gradually yielding to the steady advance of philological investigation, critical dissertation and scientific analysis. A new reflective era, more brilliant than that of Pope or Bolingbroke, was dawning. The cold generalisations of reason, the relentless inductions of philosophy, chilled the glowing ardor of the preceding era. The publication of Macaulay’s essay on Milton in 1825 marked [page 51:] the transition from the sway of the imaginative faculty to the present unsurpassed period is our prose literature. From this desultory outline of nearly contemporary literature you will observe that our poet’s intellectual constitution was formed under peculiar conditions. He does not belong chronologically to the Georgian era; his position was, for the most part, one of comparative isolation — like that of Sackville, Wyatt or Collins, in the midst of an unpoetic generation, unsustained by the consolations of poetic association or the tender endearments of poetic sympathy. When Poe attained to the full consciousness of his great powers, none of these quickening influences existed, save as matters of history or poetic tradition. Tennyson, in England, was viewing nature in perspective, and involving his critics in webs as tangled and hopeless as that which enveloped the fated Lady of Shallot. Wordsworth had abjured the teachings of his early manhood. Shelley, Keats and Byron were dead, Morris and Swinburne were yet unborn, and the thrones of the elder gods were principally filled by “the idle singers of an empty day.” American poetry had then accomplished little that future ages will not willingly let die. The succession of sweet songsters is never entirely broken. The silver cord that binds in perennial union the spirit of Chaucer and the muse of Spenser is never severed, however slight and impalpable may be the filaments that bind it together. There are always some who retain the echoes of long-gone melodies, upon whom descends something of the inspiration of those grand epochs around which is concentrated so much of the glory of the English tongue. Such a position is not an anomaly in our literary history; such a relation was sustained by the chivalric Surrey, who introduced into the discordant English of his time that peculiar form of verse which was attuned to the harmonies of Milton, and by means of which Shakspeare, after a long and painful struggle with the “bondage of rhyming,” rose to the supreme heights of poetic excellence. A similar relation was sustained by Sackville, the sombre splendor of whose “Induction” proved him the worthy herald of Spenser’s dawning greatness; and the gentle Cowper, who marks the transition from the school of Johnson and of Addison, to the advent of the Gothic revival. Such was in some essential respects the position that Poe occupies among American poets in the order of poetic succession. Having traced somewhat in detail the conditions of the age during which our poet’s intellectual constitution was developed, we are now prepared to appreciate the distinctive characteristics of his genius, as revealed in his prose, but more especially in his poetry. It is known to students of our literary history that in all periods of our literature, from the time that our speech was reduced to comparative uniformity by the delicate discrimination and rare philological perception of Chaucer, there have existed two recognised schools of poets, the native and the classical. In some, the classical element is the informing principle, as in Milton, whose pages, sprinkled with the diamond-dust of classic lore, — [page 52:]

“Thick as antummal leaves that strew the brooks

In Vallombross,”

afford the most conspicuous illustration of its power. A wonderful impulse was communicated to the development of literary poetry by “that morning-star of modern song,” the poet Keats, and since his advent our poetry has tended more and more to divest itself of native and domestic sympathies, and to assume an artistic character. Our poetry may have lost pliancy, but it has gained in elaboration and in verbal minuteness. Genius and imagination are not subdued, but are regulated by the canons of art, and from this harmonious alliance arises the unsurpassed excellence of the poetry of Poe. In the school of literary poets he must be ranked in that illustrious procession of bards which includes the names of Surrey, Shelley, Milton, Tennyson, Ben Jonson, Herrick, Cowley and Keats. Having assigned to Poe an honorable eminence in the goodly company of our literary poets, I proceed to speak of the originality, the creative power displayed in his poetry, as well as of his brilliant achievements in metrical composition.

Specific points of resemblance may be seen between his poetry and that of his predecessors and contemporaries, but no general or well defined likeness. There are individual traits that remind us of Marlowe, Greene, Byron, Shelley and Keats, but these are rather moral and mental coincidences than the impress or influence of mind upon mind. Few poets have displayed a more surpassing measure of creative power. Some of his maturer poems are almost without a precedent, in form as well as in spirit. The legend of the Raven, related by Roger De Hoveden, and referring to the era of the Latin conquest of Constantinople, nor the legend of Herod Agrippa, cited by De Quincey in his celebrated essay on modern superstition, furnishes an adequate foundation for the test of Poe’s masterpiece. The raven has constituted a prominent character in English poetry for many years. In Macbeth, in Hamlet, In Sir David Lyndsay, in Tickell’s exquisite ballad of Colin and Lucy, and in Coleridge, the appearance of this “ominous bird of yore” will suggest itself to all lovers of our dramatic and lyric poetry. But none of these can be considered as the precursor of Poe’s poem. The nearest approach to any distinctive feature of the Raven is to be found, I suspect, in the dramas of Shakspeare, those unfailing sources of intellectual nutriment. The one word “Mortimer” of Harry Percy’s starling presents a marked phonetic resemblance to the one word “Nevermore” of the Raven, whose melancholy refrain seems almost the echo of the starling’s unvarying note. No poem in our language presents a more graceful grouping of metrical appliances and devices. The power of peculiar letters is evolved with a magnificent touch; the sonorous melody of the liquids is a characteristic feature not only of the refrain, but throughout the compass of the poem their “linked sweetness long drawn out” falls with a mellow cadence, displaying the poet’s mastery of those mysterious harmonies [page 53:] which lie at the basis of human speech. The alliteration of the Norse minstrel and the Saxon bard, the skilful disposition of the caesural pauses, the continuity of the rhythm, illustrating Milton’s ideal of “true musical delight,” in which the sense is variously drawn out from one verse to another, the power of sustained interest, are some of the features that place the Raven foremost among the creations of poetic art in our age and clime. There are few more impressive examples of graphic and presentative power than the memorable lines:

“And each separate, dying ember,

Wrought its ghost upon the floor.”

The intensity and vividness of the description are worthy of Milton, and call up to memory the celebrated lines of Il Penseroso, in which the contemplative spirit is represented as shunning the busy haunts of men, seeking some “loneliness unbroken” far from all resort of mirth —

“Where glowing embers through the room.

Teach light to counterfeit a gloom.”

But perhaps the especial glory of the Raven is the originality of its metrical combinations. In the novelty of his metrical forms Poe has surpassed almost every poet of our era except Tennyson, as is frankly acknowledged by the English reviewers and eulogists of the Poet-laureate. The invention of new metres is a task upon which few poets have ventured for centuries. From Surrey to Cowley was an era of transition and experiment. Under the ascendancy of the conventional school our poetry glided smoothly and mechanically along in the orthodox en-syllabled couplet, until Cowper broke through the consecrated forms of Dryden and Pope with a boldness and originality to which our literature had long been a stranger. Few of the poets of the Lake school ventured into the enchanted ground of metrical experiment. They were ofttimes inclined to discard the restraints of verse, or at least to reader them subordinate to the spontaneous expression of the thought. With the advent of the new poetic school the increased attention to artistic elaboration, the expanding of our metrical forms became a question of serious import. The possible combinations of metre are infinite, but “for centuries,” to use Poe’s own language, “no man had thought of doing an original thing in verse.” “The Raven,” which is a novel blending of trochaic octometers, finding its nearest approach in the measure of “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” is one of the most brilliant achievements that our era has witnessed, and chronicles an epoch in the history of the metric art. In no department of his art is the genius of our poet more signally displayed than in his “Essay upon the Poetic Principle,” in which the delicate and abstruse æsthetics of poetry are discussed with a masterly comprehension, and a felicity of illustration that entitle the author to be ranked among the most consummate critics that have [page 54:] ever lived. I have often thought that a dlasertation upon poetry by a great poet would constitute an invaluable addition to the critical resources of our literature. But most illustrious masters have contented themselves with concrete examples, leaving the scholiasts and rhetoricians the irksome process of deducing theories of poetic diction from the models which they have presented. Oh, that Shakspeare had left us one line indicating the processes of his mind in the creation of Lear or of Cymbeline, or that Milton had bequeathed the rich legacy of a single item respecting the composition of “L’Allegro, or the Masque of Comus.” But it is one of the signal benefits conferred upon the poetic literature of our tongue by E. A. Poe that be has transmitted to us a critical exposition of the principles of his art, which is correctness of conception, perspicuity and æsthetic sensibility is unsurpassed, perhaps unrivalled, in our language. A diligent reading of the “Essay” will reveal the fact that in his conceptions of poetry the mind of Poe was in perfect sympathy with the greatest masters of his own art, as well as with the most acute and discriminating expositors of the art of criticism. His theory of poetry is in thorough accord with that of Shakspeare as revealed in the few invaluable suggestions he has left us in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and in a single line in the play of “As You Like It.” It is repeated in terms almost identical by Shakspeare’s contemporary, Sir Francis Bacon, in his “Advancement of Learning.” “ When I am asked for a definition of poetry,” Poe wrote to a friend, “I think of ‘Titania,’ of ‘Oberon,’ of the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ of Shakspeare.” The most distinguishing characteristic of Poe’s poetry is its rhythmical power, and its admirable illustration of that mysterious affinity which links together the sound and the sense. Throughout all the processes of creation, a rhythmical movement is clearly discernible. Upon the conscious recognition of this principle are based all our conceptions of melody, all systems of intonation and inflection. In this dangerous sphere of poetic effort he attained a mastery over the properties of verse that the Troubadours might have aspired to imitate.

I would next direct your attention to the classic impress of Poe’s poetry, its felicitous blending of genius and culture, and to the estimation in which his poetry is held in other lands. The Attic sculptor in the palmiest days of Athenian art, wrought out his loveliest conceptions by the painful processes of unflagging diligence. The angel was not evoked from the block by a sudden. inspiration, or a brilliant flash of unpremeditated art. By proceeding upon a system corresponding to the diatonic scale in music, the luxuriance of genius was regulated by the sober precepts and decorous graces of formal art. No finer illustration of conscious art has been produced in our era than the Raven. In all the riper productions of our poet there is displayed the same consummate artistic taste. He attained a graceful mastery over the subtle and delicate metrical forms, even those to whose successful production the spirit [page 55:] of the English tongue is not congenial. The sonnet, that peculiarly Italian type of verse immortalised by the genius of Petrarch, has been admirably illustrated in Poe’s poem of Zante. Indeed, much of the acrimony of his criticisms arose from his painful sensitiveness to artistic imperfection, and his enthusiastic worship of sensuous beauty. The Grecian cast of his genius lets to a pantheistic love of the beautiful embodied in palpable or material types. This striving after purely sensuous beauty has formed a distinctive characteristic of those poets who were most thoroughly imbued with the Grecian taste and spirit. They have left their impress deep upon the texture of our poesy, and many of its most silvery symphonies owe their inspiration to this source. In addition to the classic element, his poetry is pervaded by that natural magic of style, that strange unrest and unreality, those weird notes, like the refrain of his own Raven, “so musical, so melancholy,” which are traceable to the Celtic influence upon our composite intellectual character. The quick sensibility, the ethereal temper of these natural artists have wonderfully enlivened the stolid character of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors; and much of the style and constructive power that have reigned in English poetry since the days of Walter Map, of Layamon, and Chaucer, may be justly attributed to the Celtic infusion into the Teutonic blood. Conspicuous illustrations of its power may be discovered in Shakspeare, in Keats, in Byron and in Poe. I have thus endeavored to present to you the poetic and intellectual character of Poe as it has revealed itself to me from the diligent study of his works, and from many contrasts and coincidences which literary history naturally suggests. I have endeavored to show the versatile character of his genius, the consummate as well as conscious art of his poetry, the graceful blending of the creative and the critical faculty, his want of deference to prototypes or models, the chaste and scholarly elegance of his diction, the Attic smoothness and the Celtic magic of his style. Much of what he has written may not preserve its freshness, or stand the test of critical scrutiny in after-times; but when subjected to the severest ordeal of varying fashion, popular caprice, “the old order changing, yielding place to new,” there is much that will perish only with the English language. The riper productions of our poet, “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” the poem “To Helen,” have received the most glowing tributes from the dispassionate critics of the old world. I shall ever remember the thrill of grateful appreciation with which I read the splendid eulogium upon the genius of Poe in the London Quarterly Review, in which he is ranked far above his contemporaries, and pronounced one of the most consummate artists of modern times, potentially the greatest critic of our era, and possessing perhaps the finest ear for rhythm that was ever formed. You are doubtless familiar with the impression produced by the Raven upon the mind of Mrs. Browning, “Shakspeare’s daughter and Tennyson’s sister.” It is only of late that Algernon Swinburne, one of the master-spirits of the new poetic school, has accorded to Poe the [page 56:] pre-eminence among American poets. Alfred Tennyson has recently expressed his admiration of our poet, who, with true poetic ken, was among the first to appreciate the novelty and the difficulty of his method, and who, at a time when the Laureate’s fame was obscured by adverse and undiscerning criticism, clearly foresaw the serene splendor of his matured greatness. An appreciative and generous Englishman has recently added to the literature of our language a superb edition of Poe’s works, in which ample recognition is accorded to his rare and varied powers, and the calumates of his acrimonious biographer are refuted by evidence that cannot be gainsaid or resisted. No reader of English periodical literature can fail to notice the frequent tributes to his genius, the numerous allusions to his memory, the impressive parallelisms between Poe and Marlowe, the contemporary of Shakspeare and Greene, the rival of the great dramatist, that have appeared in the columns of the Athenæum, the Academy, the British Quarterlies, and the transactions of the new Shakspeare Society. Nor is this lofty estimate of his powers confined to those lands in which the English language is the vernacular speech; it has extended into foreign climes, and aroused appreciative admiration where English literature is imperfectly known and slightly regarded. Let us rejoice that at last Poe’s merits have found appropriate recognition among his own countrymen, and that the Poet’s Corner in our Westminster is rescued from the ungrateful neglect which for a quarter of a century has constituted the just reproach of our State and metropolis. In the dedication of this monument to the memory of our poet, I recognise an omen of highest and noblest import, reaching far beyond the mere preservation of his fame by the “dull, cold marble” which marks his long-neglected grave. The impulse which led to its erection coincides in spirit and character with those grand movements which the zeal and enthusiasm of patriots and scholars in Great Britain and America have effected within the past ten years for the perpetuation of much that is noblest in the poesy of the English tongue. At last we have the works of Geoffrey Chaucer restored to their original purity by the praiseworthy diligence of Furnival, Morris, and Bradshaw. At last we are to add to the golden treasures of our literature, genuine editions of Shakspeare, in which the growth of his genius and his art will be traced by the graceful scholarship and penetrating insight of Tennyson, Ingleby, Browning, Spedding and Simpson. Ten years have accomplished what centuries failed to achieve in rescuing from strange and unpardonable indifference the masterpieces of our elder literature, the Sibylline leaves of our ancient poesy. This graceful marble, fit emblem of our poet, is the expression, unconscious and undesigned, but none the less effective, of sympathy with this grand intellectual movement of our era. I hail these anspicious [[auspicious]] omens of the future of our literature with gratitude and delight; but while we welcome these happy indications, white we rejoice in the critical expansion of our peerless literature, let us not disregard the solemn injunction [page 57:] conveyed by this day’s proceedings. While we pay these last tributes of regard to the memory of him who aloae was worthy among American poets to be ranked is that illustrious procession of bards, among whose names is concentrated so much of the glory of the English tongue from Chaucer to Tennyson, let us cherish the admonition to nurture and stimulate the genius of poetry in our land, until it ascend “with no middle flight” into the “brightest heaven of invention” and the regions of purest phantasy.

Professor Shepherd was frequently interrupted with applause during the delivery of his eloquent address. Poe’s famous poem of “The Raven” was then read, after which the Infammatus from the Stabat Mater of Rossini was rendered by the Philharmonic Society, Miss Ella Gordon sustaining the solo passages.

REMINISCENCES OF POE BY JOHN H. B. LATROBE

John H. B. Latrobe, Esq., was then introduced and delivered the following address:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN — It has been announced that I am to give to this meeting “my personal recollections” of the great poet whose name has attracted the crowd before me. The inference from such an announcement would be that my acquaintance was such as to enable me to describe him as one friend or close acquaintance has it in his power to describe another. You may be surprised, then, when I say that I never saw Edgar Allan Poe but once, and that our interview did not last an hour. Those, therefore, who invited me to be present here to-day, gave to my assent a scope which was not justified by what I said, or to what it was in my power to do. The opportunity is afforded, however, of narrating the circumstances that led to our brief interview, and of correcting misstatements in regard, as it turned out, to a not unimportant event of his life. In adding an account of what occurred when we met, I shall have excused myself for taking the liberty, under the circumstances, of appearing before you at all.

About the year 1882 there was a newspaper in Baltimore called The Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]] — an ephemeral publication, that aimed at amusing its readers with light literary productions rather than the news of the day. One of its efforts was to procure original tales, and to this end it offered on this occasion two prizes, one for the best story and the other for the best short poem — one hundred dollars for the first and fifty dollars for the last. The judges appointed by the editor of the Visitor [[Visiter]] were the late John P. Kennedy, Dr. [page 58:] James H. Miller (now deceased), and myself, and accordingly we met, one pleasant afternoon, in the back parlor of my house, on Mulberry street, and seated round a table garnished with some old wine and some good cigars, commenced our critical labors. As I happened then to be the youngest of the three, I was required to open the packages of prose and poetry, respectively, and read the contents. Alongside of me was a basket to hold what we might reject.

I remember well that the first production taken from the top of the prose pile was in a woman’s hand, written very distinctly, as, indeed, were all the articles submitted, and so neatly that it seemed a pity not to award to it a prize. It was ruthlessly criticised, however, for it was ridiculously bad — nambypamby in the extreme — full of sentiment and of the school known as the Laura Matilda school. The first page would have consigned it to the basket as our critical guillotine beheaded it. Gallantry, however, caused it to be read through, when in it went along with the envelope containing the name of the writer, which, of course, remained unknown. The next piece I have no recollection of, except that a dozen lines consigned it to the basket. I remember that the third, perhaps the fourth, production was recognised as a translation from the French, with a terrific denouement. It was a poor translation too; for, falling into literal accuracy, the writer had, in many places, followed the French idioms. The story was not without merit, but the Sir Fretful Piagiary of a translator deserved the charge of Sheridan in the Critic, of being like a beggar who had stolen another man’s child and clothed it in his own rags. Of the remaining productions I have no recollection. Some were condemned after a few sentences had been read. Some were laid aside for reconsideration — not many. These last failed to pass muster afterwards, and the committee had about made up their minds that there was nothing before there to which they would award a prize, when I noticed a small quarto-bound book that had until then accidentally escaped attention, possibly because so unlike, externally, the bundles of manuscript that it had to compete with. Opening it, an envelope with a motto corresponding with one in the book appeared, and we found that our prose examination was still incomplete. Instead of the common cursive manuscript, the writing was in Roman characters — an imitation of printing. I remember that while reading the first page to myself, Mr. Kennedy and the Doctor had filled their glasses and lit their cigars, and when I said that we seemed at last to have a prospect of awarding the prize, they laughed as though they doubted it, and settled themselves in their comfortable chairs as I began to read. I had not proceeded far before my colleagues became as much interested as myself. The first tale finished, I went to the second, then to the next, and did not stop until I had gone through the volume, interrupted only by such exclamations as “capital!” “excellent!” “how odd!” and the like, from my companions. There was [page 59:] genius in everything they listened to; there was no uncertain grammar, no feeble phraseology, no ill-placed punctuation, no worn-out truisms, no strong thought elaborated into weakness. Logic and imagination were combined in rare consistency. Sometimes the writer created in his mind a world of his own and then described it — a world so weird, so strange —

“Far down by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid-region of Wier;

Far down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Wier.”

And withal so fascinating, so wonderfully graphic, that it seemed for the moment to have all the truth of a reality. There was an analysis of complicated facts — an unravelling of circumstantial evidence that won the lawyer judges — an amount of accurate scientific knowledge that charmed their accomplished colleague — a pure classic diction that delighted all three.

When the reading was completed there was a difficulty of choice. Portions of the tales were read again, and finally the committee selected “A MS. Found in a Bottle” One of the series was called “A Descent into the Maelström,” and this was at one time preferred. I cannot now recall the names of all the tales — there must have been six or eight — but all the circumstances of the selection ultimately made have been so often since referred to in conversation that my memory has been kept fresh, and I see my fellow judges over their wine and cigars, in their easy chairs — both genial, hearty men, in pleasant mood, as distinctly now as though I were describing an event of yesterday.

Having made the selection and awarded the one hundred dollar prize, not, as has been said, most unjustly and ill-naturedly, because the manuscript was legible, but because of the unquestionable genius and great originality of the writer, we were at liberty to open the envelope that identified him, and there we found in the note, whose motto corresponded with that of the little volume, the name, which I see you anticipate, of Edgar Allan Poe.

The statement in Dr. Griswold’s life prefixed to the common edition of Poe’s works, that “It was unanimously decided by the committee that the prize should be given to the first genius who had written legibly; not another MS. was unfolded,” is absolutely untrue.

Refreshed by this most unexpected change in the character of the contributions, the committee refilled their glasses and relit their cigars, and the reader began upon the poetry. This, although better in the main than the prose, was bad enough, and, when we had gone more or less thoroughly over the pile of manuscript, two pieces only were deemed worthy of consideration. The title of one was “The Coliseum,” the written printing of which told that it was Poe’s. The title of the other I have forgotten, but, upon opening the accompanying envelope, we found that the author was Mr. John H. Hewitt, [page 60:] still living in Baltimore, and well known, I believe, in the musical world, both as a poet and composer. I am not prepared to say that the committee may not have been biased in awarding the fifty dollar prize to Mr. Hewitt by the fact that they had already given the one hundred dollar prize to Mr. Poe. I recollect, however, that we agreed that, under the circumstances, the excellence of Mr. Hewitt’s poem deserved a reward, and we gave the smaller prize to him with clear consciences.

I believe that up to this time not one of the committee had ever seen Mr. Poe, and it is my impression that I was the only one that ever heard of him. When his name was read I remembered that on one occasion Mr. Wm. Gwynn, a prominent member of the bar of Baltimore, had shown me the very neat manuscript of a poem called “Al Aaraaf,” which he spoke of as indicative of a tendency to anything but the business of matter-of-fact life. Those of my hearers who are familiar with the poet’s works will recollect it as one of his earlier productions. Although Mr. Gwynn, being an admirable lawyer, was noted as the author of wise and witty epigrams in verse, “Al Aaraaf” was not in his vein, and what he said of the writer had not prepared me for the productions before the committee. His name, I am sure, was not at the time a familiar one.

The next number of the Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]] contained the “MS. Found in a Bottle,” and announced the author. My office, in these days, was in the building still occupied by the Mechanics’ Bank, and I was seated at my desk on the Monday following the publication of the tale, when a gentleman entered and introduced himself as the writer, saying that he came to thank me, as one of the committee, for the award in his favor. Of this interview, the only one I ever had with Mr. Poe, my recollection is very distinct indeed, and it requires but a small effort of imagination to place him before me now, as plainly almost as I see any one of my audience. He was, if anything, below the middle size, and yet could not be described as a small man. His figure was remarkably good, and he carried himself erect and well, as one who had been trained to it. He was dressed in black, and his frock-coat was buttoned to the throat, where it met the black stock, then almost universally worn. Not a particle of white was visible. Coat, hat, boots and gloves had very evidently seen their best days, but so far as mending and brushing go, everything had been done, apparently, to make them presentable. On most men his clothes would have looked shabby, and seedy, but there was something about this man that prevented one from criticising his garments, and the details I have mentioned were only recalled afterwards. The impression made, however, was that the award in Mr. Poe’s favor was not inopportune. Gentleman was written all over him. His manner was easy and quiet, and although he carne to return thanks for what he regarded as deserving them, there was nothing obsequious in what he said or did. His features I am unable to describe in [page 61:] detail. His forehead was high and remarkable for the great development at the temple. This was the characteristic of his head, which you noticed at once, and which I have never forgotten. The expression of his face was grave, almost sad, except when he was engaged in conversation, when it became animated and changeable. His voice, I remember, was very pleasing in its tone and well modulated, almost rhythmical, and his words were well chosen and unhesitating. Taking a seat, we conversed a while on ordinary topics, and he informed me that Mr. Kennedy, my colleague in the committee, on whom he had already called, had either given, or promised to give him, a letter to the Southern Literary Messenger, which he hoped would procure him employment. I asked him whether he was then occupied with any literary labor. He replied that he was engaged on a voyage to the moon, and at once went into a somewhat learned disquisition upon the laws of gravity, the height of the earth’s atmosphere and the capacities of balloons, warming in his speech as he proceeded. Presently, speaking in the first person, he began the voyage, after describing the preliminary arrangements, as you will find them set forth in one of his tales, called “The Adventure of one Hans Pfaall,” and leaving the earth, and becoming more and more animated, he described his sensation, as he ascended higher and higher, until, at last, he reached the point in space where the moon’s attraction overcame that of the earth, when there was a sudden bouleversement of the car and a great confusion among its tenants. By this time the speaker had become so excited, spoke so rapidly, gesticulating much, that when the turn-up-side-down took place, and he clapped his hands and stamped with his foot by way of emphasis, I was carried along with him, and, for aught to the contrary that I now remember, may have fancied myself the companion of his aerial journey. The climax of the tale was the reversal I have mentioned. When he had finished his description he apologised for his excitability, which he laughed at himself. The conversation then turned upon other subjects, and soon afterward he took his leave. I never saw him more. Dr. Griswold’s statement “that Mr. Kennedy accompanied him (Poe) to a clothing store and purchased for him a respectable suit, with a change of linen, and sent him to a bath,” is a sheer fabrication.

That I heard of him again and again, and year after year, in common with all English-speaking people, more and more, it is unnecessary to say — heard of him in terms of praise sometimes, sometimes in terms of censure, as we all have done, until now, that he has passed away, leaving his fame behind him, to last while our language lasts, I have grown to think of him only as the author who gave to the world the “Raven” and the “Bells,” and many a gem beside of noble verse; who illustrated that power of the English tongue in prose composition not less logical than imaginative; and I forget the abuse, whether with or without foundation, that ignorance, prejudice or envy has heaped upon his memory. Unfortunate in the first biography following his [page 62:] death, where the author, with a temper difficult to understand, actually seemed to enjoy the depreciation of the poet’s life, Edgar Allan Poe was seen by a malignant eye, and his story was told by an unkindly tongue; and the efforts since made by friends to do him justice are slowly succeeding in demonstrating that there was in him an amount of good which, in all fairness, should be set off against that which we must regret while we attempt to palliate.

To Poe, there well may be applied the verse of one of the most gifted of our poetesses, addressed to a great name in a very different sphere:

“The moss upon thy memory, no!

Not while one note is rung

Of those divine, immortal lays

Milton and Shakspeare sung;

Not till the gloom of night enshroud

The Anglon-Saxon tongue.”

REMARKS BY MR. NEILSON POE.

After Mr. Latrobe had concluded his remarks, Mr. Neilson Poe, Sr., a cousin of the poet, was introduced by Prof. Elliott, and spoke as follows: —

Among the persons who have assembled here to-day to witness these affecting and impressive ceremonies, are a number of the kindred, in nearer or remoter degrees, of the author to whom you are about to dedicate an enduring monument. It has seemed to them that they would be wanting both in sensibility and gratitude, if they suffered the occasion to pass without some acknowledgment of their special obligations to the ladies and gentlemen by whose zeal and liberality this memorial has been erected. It is impossible that they, of all the world, can be indifferent to the constantly increasing fame of one whose ancestors were also their ancestors, or that they can disguise their pride and gratification in realising that the faults and foibles of their kinsman which malevolence and envy had invented or exaggerated, have, under more impartial and deliberate examination, come to be judged with more of charity and more of justice. The large audience here to-day, the interest which the press and the public throughout the country have evinced in these ceremonies, the multiplication of editions of his works on both sides of the Atlantic, and in most of the Continental tongues, and the concurring voice of scholars and reviewers everywhere, all prove beyond dispute that his fame is not either local or ephemeral, and that, in the language of the most renowned of critics, he is not to be regarded as a transitory meteor of the lower sky, shedding a waning or a borrowed lustre, but rather as a star of the upper firmament, destined to shine with a fixed and unalterable glory. [page 63:]

On behalf, therefore, of all who bear his name or share his blood, I return their profound thanks, and, in their name, declare their complete satisfaction with the results of the labors of the generous and enthusiastic authors of this tribute to his memory, and with the energy, judgment and good taste which have marked all their proceedings.

Those present then repaired to Westminster Churchyard, where all that is mortal of Poe reposes. The remains have been removed from their first resting-place, in an obscure part of the lot, to the corner of Fayette and Greene streets, where the monument now covering the grave can be seen from Fayette street.

While the Philharmonic Society rendered the dirge “Sleep and Rest,” by Barnby, the Committee on the Memorial and others gathered around the monument. The dirge is an adaptation of Tennyson’s “Sweet and Low,” by Mrs. Eleanor Fullerton, of this city. Prof. Elliott, and Miss Rice removed the muslin in which the memorial was veiled while the dirge was being sung, and the memorial was then for the first time presented to the gaze of the public. The monument was crowned with a wreath composed of ivy, and another of lilies and evergreens. After the dirge, Mr. William F. Gill, of Boston, recited Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee,” and Mrs. Dillehunt, a former school-teacher, selections from “The Bells.” This concluded the exercises, and the throng which had collected in the graveyard came forward to view the monument.

During the exercises a large throng was gathered in the vicinity of Fayette and Greene streets, unable to gain admission to the Female High School or the churchyard.

THE MONUMENT.

The monument is of the pedestal or cippus form, eight feet high; the surbase is of Woodstock granite, six feet square and one foot thick; the rest being of fine white veined Italian marble. The pedestal has an Attic base three feet ten inches square; the die-block is a cube three feet square and three feet two inches high, [page 64:] relieved on each face by a square projecting and polished panel, the upper angles of which are broken and filled with a carved rosette. On the front panel is the bas-relief bust of the poet, modelled by Frederick Volck from a photograph, and executed in the finest statuary marble. On the opposite panel is inscribed the dates of the poet’s birth and death. On the Attic base below the front panel is the name of EDGAR ALLAN POE, in large raised letters. The die-block is crowned by a bold and graceful frieze and cornice four feet square, broken on each face in the centre by the segment of a circle. The frieze is ornamented at the angles by richly-carved acanthus leaves, and in the circled centres by a lyre crowned with laurel. The whole is capped by a blocking three feet square, cut to a low pyramidal form. The effect of the whole admirably carries out the design of the architect, which was to produce “something simple, chaste, and dignified, to strike more by graceful outlines and proportions, than by crowding with unmeaning ornament.”

A pleasing feature of the ceremonies was the placing upon the monument of a large wreath of flowers, made up principally of camellias, lilies and tea-roses. Together with this was deposited a floral tribute in the shape of a raven, made from black immortelles. The large petals of the lilies suggested the “Bells” immortalised by Poe’s genius, the significance of the other emblem being obvious. These were tributes from the company at Ford’s Grand Opera House, Mrs. Germon being mainly instrumental in getting them up. Poe’s mother had been an actress at Holliday Street Theatre, which fact had been preserved in the traditions of the stage and had something to do with inspiring this tribute.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 47:]

*  The ground occupied by the monument covers parts of lots 174 and 180, belonging to the descendants of Mr. Robert Wilson and Mr. Alexander Fridge, whose representatives kindly gave permission for its use.


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Notes:

During Poe’s lifetime, the word “visitor,” even in the United States, was commonly spelled as “visiter.” Thus, the name of the newspaper for which Poe won the contest in 1833 was the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, as it appears in its own masthead, and not the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, the latter form presumably reflecting the choice of some editor in 1877 wishing to modernize the spelling.

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[S:1 - EAPMV, 1877] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume [Dedication of the Monument] (Various, 1877)