Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 06,” Complete Works of E. A. Poe , Vol. 01: Biography (1902), 1:120-152


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[page 120:]

CHAPTER VI.

1837-1840.

ADRIFT. NEW YORK AND PHILADELPHIA.

THE last leaf of the “Southern Literary Messenger” for January, 1837, contained the following announcement:

To the Patrons of the Southern Literary Messenger:

“In issuing the present number of the ‘Messenger’ (the first of a new volume) I deem it proper to inform my subscribers, and the public generally, that Mr. Poe, who has filled the editorial department for the last twelve months with so much ability, retired from that station on the 3d inst., and the entire management of the work again devolves on myself alone. Mr. P., however, will continue to furnish its columns, from time to time, with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen, — and my old contributors, among whom I am proud to number some of the best writers in our state and country, will doubtless continue to favor me with their valuable contributions. . . .

“It is perhaps due to Mr. Poe to state, that he is not responsible for any of the articles which appear in the present number, except the reviews of ‘Bryant’s Poems,’ ‘George Balcombe,’ ‘Irving’s Astoria,’ ‘Reynolds’s Address on the South Sea Expedition,’ ‘Anthon’s Cicero.’ — the first number of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym,’ a sea story, and two poetical effusions to which [page 121:] his name is prefixed.’ RICHMOND, January 26, 1837.

In an earlier number, for December, 1835, the publisher had said:

“Among these [contributors], we hope to be pardoned for singling out the name of Mr. EDGAR A. POE; not with design to make any invidious distinction, but because such a mention of him finds numberless precedents in the journals on every side, which have rung the praises of his uniquely original vein of imagination, and of humorous, delicate satire.”

Page 72 of the “Southern Literary Messenger” for January, 1837, contained a foot-note printed in small type attached to the review of “Anthon’s Cicero,” to the following effect:

“Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the Editorial duties on the ‘Messenger.’ His Critical Notices for this month end with Professor Anthon’s ‘Cicero’ — what follows is from another hand. With the best wishes to the Magazine, and to its few foes as well as many friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell.”

Whatever may have been the cause of the “peaceable farewell,” — the rupture between Poe and White, — it is absolutely incredible that it could have been the “sickness” or “irregularity” of the former, for in this final number for January, 1837, fully one-third of the ninety-six pages is occupied by the eight contributions of the poet-critic, nor is it correct to say (Woodberry, 103) that “Poe furnished no more installments of his serial narrative ‘Arthur Gordon Pym,’ which had just been begun in ‘The Messenger.‘”

The very next number of the “Messenger,” for [page 122:] February, 1837, contains over fifteen columns more of the serial narrative! Quis credat?

The previous two years of the “Messenger” had been crowded — enriched beyond compare — with a prodigious variety of work from Poe’s ever-fertile, over flying pen. If he ventured to republish occasionally what had appeared in his first three timid, scarce, and unknown volumes of 1827, 1829, and 1831, he seldom reproduced an old poem without embellishing it and reducing it to a shape and form that have remained incomparable. The literary perfection which he demanded from his contemporaries was no less sternly exacted from his own writings: with the result that he has yet to be convicted of a technical error in his finished works. The 1827 volume of Poe was suppressed immediately after its publication by C. F. S. Thomas of Boston, and is now so rare that the McKee copy sold in New York, November, 1900, for $2,050. The 1829 — “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems” became almost as great a rarity, and the West Point “Poems ” Of 1831 — in which the forty pages of 1827 had grown to one hundred and twenty-four — are likewise a bibliographical rarity, doubtless even more so then than now when an occasional copy can be picked up at a fabulous price.

To the — “Messenger” for 1834-35 (beginning August, 1834, and extending to September, 1835) Poe contributed nine articles; in the “Messenger” for 1835-36 (from December to the following November) Poe had no less than eighteen contributions; and in the volume for 1837, nine contributions, many of them of great length, appear by him: an almost incredible array of work for a young man of “idle,” [page 123:] — “drunken,“’ and “irregular” habits, encumbered with a delicate wife and mother-in-law!

Of the fourteen long prose pieces contributed during these three years, seven are Poe classics: “A MS. Found in a Bottle”; “Berenice”; “Morella”; “Hans Pfaall”; “The Visionary (Assignation)”; “Shadow”; “Metzengerstein”; seven are the remarkable “A Tale of Jerusalem,” “Lionizing,” “Bon-Bon,” “Loss of Breath,” “King Pest,” “Duc de l’Omelette,” and “Four Beasts in One (Epimanes)“.

Besides this striking abundance of prose masterpieces, some of which have placed themselves among the rarest prose-poems in the language, there were numerous metrical poems in their early stages — “The Coliseum,” “Irene,” “Politian,” “Israfel,” A Pæan,” “To Helen,” “To Science,” “The Valley of Nis,” and others: enough to make in all an average of four each month during the period of Poe’s incumbency as editor.

There is no doubt, however, that Poe was addicted to drugs and stimulants at irregular intervals and under strong temptations. That he was either an habitual drunkard or an habitual opium-eater is contradicted both by the unanimous testimony of his intimate friends — those who really knew him — and by the piles of exquisitely-written manuscript, manuscript written at all hours of the day and night, under all circumstances of good and bad health, hurriedly or deliberately, that have remained behind to attest a physical — condition absolutely the opposite of that of a victim of delirium tremens.(1) No opium sot, no [page 124:] habitual victim of spirituous liquors, could have written this firm, clear, steady, delightfully legible feminine hand-writing. Poe’s case has never been scientifically diagnosed by a competent neurologist who possessed the combined pathological and literary equipment and freedom from prejudice necessary to render his case — more singular than “The Case of M. Valdemar” — intelligible to the residing world. Poe himself comes nearest to it in his ghastly tale of “Hop-Frog,” in which he describes-autobiographically, one cannot but think — the frightful effects of a single glass of wine on the deformed cripple. His brain was always at fever-heat, a volcano raging with inward fires send full of the molten lava of nervous irritability: to add a single drop of external stimulant to it was to cause it to overflow, and destroy or ravage everything within reach. There are temperaments that come into the world intoxicated, like the — “God-intoxicated Spinoza” — so brimming with spiritual fire that there is no room for anything more. Such temperaments are perilously allied to hysteria and madness, but one needs only to glance over the literary annals of the globe to pick out the Sapphos, the Lucans, the Tassos, the Pascals, the Burnses, the H6lderlins, the Collinses. That Poe maintained his absolute sanity to the last, and increased the lofty reasonableness and perfection of his style up to the very gates of Death, is an historical fact illuminative alike to the literary historian and the pathologist.

Poe’s position, first as contributor to the “Messenger,” then as its editor, had never been a bed of roses. Almost at the outset a confidential correspondent of [page 125:] Mr. T. W. White (its proprietor) wrote to him as follows:

“June 22, 1835 — James M. Garnett, Essex, to Mr. Thomas W. White, Editor’South. Lit. Mess.’ With respect to Mr. Poe, if I am to judge by his last communication, I should determine that he will rather injure than benefit your Paper. His sole object in this seems to be, to inform your Readers how many Authors he knows, — at least by name. That he may be ‘a scholar of the very highest grade’ I will not question; but it is not always the best scholars that write best, or have the best taste and judgment. Read his piece over again, and I think you will agree with me that it has neither wit nor humor; or that if it has any, it lies too deep for common understanding to follow it.” (MS. letter in the Virginia Historical Society’s Library, Richmond, Va.)

Envy and jealousy followed the gifted and unfortunate man wherever he went, and Richmond was no exception. That he did splendid and epoch-making work for White was shown in the enormous increase (from 700 to 5,000) in circulation of the magazine and the great attention that was paid to its literary and critical judgments all over the North and South.

Mr. White himself was an excellent man and business manager who had the sense to see the value of Poe to his journal and to retain these invaluable services as long as he could.

Of Mr. White himself Dr. B. B. Minor (one of the editors of the “Messenger“) writes the author under date of November 16, 1900:

“Mr. Thomas W. White, founder and proprietor of the’Southern Literary Messenger,’ was not a man of education or self-culture; but a practical printer. [page 126:] He was small and of unprepossessing presence; yet pleasant, kind-hearted, and conciliatory: so that he could enlist others in what he proposed to them. In establishing the . Messenger,’ he probably had an advantage that he would not have had as a literary man. He had a printing office and needed only patronage enough to pay him for a good monthly job. In appealing to the pride and patriotism of our people, which he did sincerely, he could evoke the assistance and cooperation of literary men. Thus he obtained for a whole year, gratuitously, the faithful and efficient editorial services of Mr. James Et Heath, grandfather of Professor Richard Heath Dabney. Mr. Heath had a good salary as 2nd Auditor of the State of Virginia and could and did afford to help Mr. White’s approved enterprise.

“Mr. Heath was recognized as a literary man and had published a Virginian novel entitled (I think) Edge Hill.’ I would like to read it again. Mr. White could write a very good and coaxing letter and drew other influential men to the support of his praiseworthy adventure. At first he announced himself as’ printer and proprietor’ of the — ‘Messenger.’

“In Vol. II. he announced himself — ‘proprietor,’ but said that the ‘intellectual department was under the conduct of the proprietor, assisted by a gentleman of distinguished literary talents.’ He also said: ‘The gentleman referred to in the 9th Number of the ‘Messenger’ as filling its Editorial chair, retired thence with the 11th Number.’

“In Vol. I., No. 9, p. 481, most cordial thanks are given to the gentleman (Mr. Heath) who had up to that time rendered gratuitously such valuable services to the ‘Messenger,’ and it was stated that ‘an [page 127:] Editor of acknowledged capacity had been engaged, who would devote his whole attention to the work.’ This was the person who so soon retired, — with the 11th Number. I do not know who this was. I believe that Lucian Minor was of great assistance to Mr. White, after both Mr. Heath and Mr. Poe. Mr. White thought all the world of Mr. Lucian Minor and the ‘Messenger’ once gave him the highest sort of notice. I think it was in connection with Mr. Minor’s Eulogy on Professor John A. G. Davis and his fine picture of a Model Lawyer.

“As early as Vol. III., Mr. White announced himself as ‘Editor and Proprietor,’ and continued to do so. He died January 19, 1843, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He was a native of Virginia, but was engaged for some time as a printer in Boston, which may have been a benefit to him in his subsequent work in Richmond. It was once stated somewhere that he was a Northern man, but he had this corrected in the ‘Messenger,’ which declared that he was a Tuckahoe.

“Mr. White’s Editors were James E. Heath, Lucian Minor, Edgar A. Poe; judge Henry St. George Tucker, for a short time, upon the testimony of Colonel Thomas H. Ellis; and Lieutenant Mathew F. Maury, U. S. N. I must have become acquainted with him soon after I settled in Richmond, in 1841. Mr. John W. Fergusson has reminded me that he took to my law office proof-sheets which Mr. White sent and asked me to correct for the ‘Messenger.’ My first contribution was published in January, 1842, and must have been written some time before. It was in behalf of my Alma Mater, the University of Virginia, and was edited by Lieutenant Maury, as his writing on the MS. plainly shows. I still have it.” [page 128:]

Mr. White’s daughter, Eliza, to whom Poe ad. dressed the stanzas “To Eliza,” was said to be a beautiful girl who visited the Clemms and Poes after they removed to Philadelphia, and afterwards became a well-known Shaksperian [[sic]] reader, dying unmarried in 1888, seventy-six years of age.

After the severance of his connection with the “Messenger,” in January, 1837, Poe is found some months after in New York, at a Carmine Street house numbered with the unfortunate figure 113 1/2. It will be remembered that he occupied the dormitory No. 13 West Range, while he was at the University, a fact in which the superstitious seers of signs and wonders may revel.

The house was a wretched wooden shanty, abundantly large for the little party of three and a few boarders whom the indefatigable Mrs. Clemm decided to take as a help in the household expenses.

Invaluable testimony as to Poe’s sobriety at this time is rendered by one of these boarders, a Mr. William Gowans, — the wealthy and eccentric bibliopolist,” who lived eight months with the Poes in the Carmine Street house.(1) Mr. Gowans joins N. P. Willis, Frances Sargent Osgood, George R. Graham, and many others with whom Poe was intimately associated in social life and in literary office work, in the assertion that he was never otherwise seen than as the courteous and perfect gentleman whose manners, to women especially, were almost reverential, and to his employers habitually respectful and considerate.

In his letter Mr. Gowans says:

“For eight months or more ‘one house contained us, as one table fed.’ During that time I saw much [page 129:] of him, and had an opportunity of conversing with him often, and I must say, that I never saw him the least affected with liquor, nor even descend to any known vice, while he was one of the most courteous, gentlemanly, and intelligent companions I have met with during my journeyings and haltings through divers divisions of the globe; besides, he had an extra inducement to be a good man as well as a good husband, for he had a wife of matchless beauty and loveliness; her eye could match that of any houri, and her face defy the genius of a Canove to imitate; a temper and disposition of surpassing sweetness; besides, she seemed as much devoted to him and his every interest as a young mother is to her first-born. . . . Poe had a remarkably pleasing and prepossessing countenance, what the ladies would call decidedly band some.”

Poe himself had carefully trained the beautiful young Baltimore girl, and under his loving and patient tuition — reversing the position of Morella and Ligeia, whose “profound erudition” instructed their husbands — she became an expert linguist. Her mother speaks of her rare musical powers and beautiful voice

“Of all the women I have ever known, she, the outwardly calm, the ever-placid Ligeia that mingled reminiscence of wife and mother was the most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion. And of such passions I could form no estimate, save by the miraculous expression of those eyes which at once so delighted and appalled me — by the almost magical melody, modulation, distinctness, and placidity of her very low voice.”

“Eddie,” declares Mrs. Clemm,” was domestic in all his habits, seldom leaving home for an hour unless [page 130:] his darling Virginia, or myself, were with him. He was truly an affectionate, kind husband, and a devoted son to me. He was impulsive, generous, affectionate, and noble. His tastes were very simple, and his admiration for all that was good and beautiful very great. . . . We three lived only for each other.“(1)

And here again arises the exquisite farm of Eleonora — the loveliest of all Poe’s fable-autobiographies:

“She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these reminiscences, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together beneath a tropical sun, in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came upon the vale; for it lay far away up among a range of giant hills that hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and, to reach our happy home, there was need of putting back, with force, the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers.

“Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley,- I, and my cousin, and her mother.”

With this we may combine two other autobiographic touches — for Poe may best be interpreted by himself — one from “Berenice,” the other, the remarkable opening lines of “Eleonora”:

“I am come of a race noted for vigor of fancy and ardor of passion. Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence: whether much that is glorious, [page 131:] whether all that is profound, does not spring from disease of thought, — from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awaking, to find that they have been on the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil. They penetrate, however rudderless or compassless, into the vast ocean of the light ineffable‘; and again, like the adventures of the Nubian geographer, ‘agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi.’

“We will say, then, that I am mad.” (Eleonora.)

“To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some frivolous device on the margin or in the typography of a book; to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer’s day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor; lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days aver the perfume of a !lower; to repeat, monotonously, some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence, by means of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in: such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation.” (Berenice.) [page 132:]

Here is Poe drawing his own silhouette out of the cloudland of memory and self-analysis: the dreamer, the poet, the madman, the monomaniac, if you will, passionately addicted to revery, as passionately as the Hindoo who fixes his lifelong glance on the mystic lotus, the ineffable dower, that lifts its chalice above the slime of Life; the ardent lover, the remnant of an ancient race feverishly enamored of the Beautiful, the solitary deluged with poetic visions, whose eye for the Unknown is almost celestially clear, while every step in the Actual is a stumble.

“Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls. Yet differently we grew — I, ill of health, and buried in gloom — she, agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy; hers, the ramble on the hill-side — mine, the studies of the cloister; I, living within my own heart, and addicted, body and soul, to the most intense and painful meditation — she, roaming carelessly through life, with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenice! — I call upon her name — Berenice! and from the gray ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the sound. Ah, vividly is her image before me now, as in the early days of her light-heartedness and joy! O gorgeous yet fantastic beauty ! O sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim! O Naiad among its fountains! And then — then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease, fatal disease, fell like the simoom upon her frame; and even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, her character, and in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person.” [page 133:]

Here is the premonition of the ill husband, solitary, introspective, Hamlet-like in his profuse soliloquizing on Death and the Eternal, — a more than Werther in the fiery intensity of his monologue, — and of the mortally stricken wife ten or twelve years before the dread catastrophe of his illness and her death came to pass, — a prophetic realization, in advance, of what was to happen in 1847.

The early New York period was devoted to the completion of “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” a story of an Antarctic Cruise as far south as the 84th parallel, made up of equal ingredients of Poe, “The Ancient Mariner,” and Benjamin Morell’s “Narrative of Four Voyages to the South Seas and Pacific” (New York: 1832: pp. 183 seq.). To give realism to the adventures, Poe Paraphrased Morell largely as to facts, but had only to draw on his own marvellous imagination to explain them or to conceive situations full of graphic horror and exquisite though terrible landscape-painting, alternately Claudelike and Salvatoresque in their poetic or their supernatural beauty. Such was the realism of the narrative that it was taken for genuine and, after its appearance in boost form in 1838, it was reprinted by the Putnams in England.

The period from 1838 to 1844 Poe and his little family spent in Philadelphia, then the literary metropolis of the Union. While he was in Richmond he is said to have received an invitation from Dr. F. L. Hawks of North Carolina to come to New York and collaborate with him on the newly projected “New York Review.” His one contribution to this theological quarterly — then in the throes of the financial panic of 1837-38 — was a review of Stephens’ [page 134:] “Travels in Arabia Petræa,” partly original, partly compiled from the book itself and from Keith’s work on Prophecy. Professor Anthon contributed the Hebrew learning of the article.

In a faded and time-stained copy of the “Baltimore Book” for 1839, edited by W. H. Carpenter and T. S. Arthur, now lying before us, we find:

Siope — A Fable.

[In the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists]

By Edgar Poe.

Ours is a world of words; Quiet we call

Silence — which is the merest word of all.

(Al Aaraaf.)

— the earliest form of an allegory which is perhaps Poe’s most majestic piece of prose, worthy of Jean Paul Richter in its music and magnificence. This earliest form of the fable is destitute of the fine lines from the Greek of Alcman and their English interpretation by Poe, found in later editions, and shows that “Arthur Gordon Pym” did not wholly occupy the poet’s time at this period.

Philadelphia in the late thirties and forties was an interesting place intellectually. Here the first monthly magazine, the first daily newspaper, the first religious magazine, the first religious weekly, the first penny paper, mathematical journal, .juvenile magazine, and illustrated comic paper, ever published in the United States, had started on their career about the middle of the eighteenth century.

We have several pleasant glimpses of the Poes during this period of their sojourn in Philadelphia, even [page 135:] Griswold paying a tribute to the beauty of their home life:

“It was while he resided in Philadelphia that I became acquainted with him.

“His manner, except during his fits of intoxication, was very quiet and gentlemanly. He was usually dressed with simplicity and elegance, and when once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular nestness and the air of refinement in his home.

“It was in a small house in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished, everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius.”

“The residence described,” adds Gill,(1) “was a small, brick tenement in North Seventh Street, in that part of the city then known as Spring Garden. The house was on the rear portion of the lot, leaving a large vacant space in front, affording Poe and his gentle invalid wife opportunity for indulging their penchant for plants and flowers.”

Mr. C. W. Alexander, publisher of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and a founder of the Philadelphia “Saturday Evening Post,” wrote a year after Poe’s death of his association with him on the magazine

“I had long and familiar intercourse with him, and very cheerfully embrace the opportunity which you now offer of bearing testimony to the uniform gentleness of disposition [italics Mr. A.’s] and kindness of heart which distinguished Mr. Poe in all my intercourse [page 136:] with him. With all his faults, he was a gentleman; which is more than can be said of some who have undertaken the ungracious task of blacking the reputation which Mr. Poe, of all others, esteemed the precious jewel of his soul.’

“That Mr. Poe had faults,” he continues, “seriously detrimental to his own interests, none, of course, will deny. They were, unfortunately, too well known in the literary circles of Philadelphia, were there any disposition to conceal them. But he alone was the sufferer, and not those who received the benefit of his pre-eminent talents, however irregular his habits or uncertain his contributions may occasionally have been.”

There is a continuous array of testimony of this kind, acknowledging indeed Poe’s infirmities — though there is far from unanimity as to these, same absolutely denying them — but almost universally emphasizing his essential goodness of heart. His continual necessities made him an incessant borrower, and his accounts occasionally became entangled; but no one familiar with his published and unpublished correspondence will deny his equally incessant anxiety to pay his whole indebtedness to the very last penny.

Another pleasing glimpse of the domestic life of the Poes at this time is given by one who knew than well

“Their little garden in summer, and the house in winter, were overflowing with luxuriant grape and other vines, and liberally ornamented with choice flowers of the poet’s selection. Poe was a pattern of social and domestic worth. It was our happiness to participate with them in the occasional enjoyment of the beauty of the flowers, and to watch the enthusiasm [page 137:] with which the fondly attached pair exhibited their floral taste. Here, too, we were wont to participate in the hospitality which always rendered Poe’s home the home of his friends. We call to mind some incidents in the pleasantly remembered intercourse that existed between the ladies of our families, especially in the hours of sickness, which rendered so much of Virginia’s life a source of painful anxiety to all who had the pleasure of knowing her, and of witnessing the gradual wasting away of her fragile frame.

“But she was an exquisite picture of patient loveliness, always wearing upon her beautiful countenance the smile of resignation, and the warm, ever-cheerful look with which she ever greeted her friends.

“How devotedly her husband loved the gentle being is touchingly illustrated in the Griswold description of his visit [quotation]. . . . This, coining from the malignant Griswold, is an eloquent tribute to the kindly and tender spirit of Poe, whose devotion no adversity, not even the fiend that haunted him in the fatal cup, could warp or lessen, and this attachment, intense as it was, was equally strong and enduring in the soul of his’ Annabel Lee,’ his gentle mate, whose affection that poem so touchingly and sadly commemorates:

“ ‘And this maiden, she lived with no other thought

Than to lore and be loved by me.’

“ ‘She was a child,’ sings the poem; and, indeed, Poe himself was little else in the everyday perplexities and responsibilities of life. On leaving Philadelphia for New York, when breaking up their simple, fairylike home, we were favored with some of their pet flowers, which, preserved and framed, remain in our [page 138:] household to this day as interesting relics of those happy days with Edgar and Virginia.”

The author of this pretty pen-picture of the Poe home life was T. Cottrell Clarke, first editor of the famous Philadelphia “Saturday Evening Post,” which had been founded in 1821 by Atkinson & Alexander and was published in the office once occupied by Benjamin Franklin, back of No. 53 Market Street.

In fact, no one ever came very near the Poes without being struck by the wholesomeness, sanity, beauty, and brightness of their surroundings. The direst poverty might reign — as it did through life — in their immediate vicinity, yet there is none of the squalor or moral degradation, irresponsibility or seedy neglect which the health of both husband and wife and the frequent extremity of their needs might well have excused. The Imp of the Perverse ruled there rarely, only as the Imp of the Cup — the hereditary fiend which William Poe, his cousin, in a well-known letter to Edgar, declared to be “a great enemy to our family”:

“There is one thing I am anxious to caution you against, and which has been a great enemy to our family, — I hope, however, in your case, it may prove unnecessary, — I a too free use of the bottle.’ ”(1)

In Philadelphia it was Poe’s singular fortune to fall in with the Good and the Evil Angel of his life — with George R. Graham and Rufus Wilmot Griswold — two persons whose influence on his career during critical periods was profound and far-reaching. The dead French Academician is usually eulogized by his successor; the dead man of letters is sometimes kicked by his expected eulogist. [page 139:]

The story of “Graham’s Magazine,” which exercised an influence on American ante-bellum letters unequalled by any other periodical, not even excepting the younger ” Atlantic Monthly,” is condensed by Mr. A. H. Smyth from Mr. Graham’s own lips, as follows:(1)

“Graham was the owner and editor of ‘Atkinson’s Casket,’ when, in 1841, William E. Burton, the actor, came to him with the request that he should buy’ The Gentleman’s Magazine,’ of which Burton had been the proprietor for four years. Burton explained that money was needed for his new theatre, that the magazine must be sold, that it numbered 3,500 subscribers, and that it would be sold outright for $3,500. Graham, who at that time had 1,500 subscribers to his own magazine, accepted the offer, and ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ was transferred to him. ‘There is one thing more,’ said Burton, ‘I want you to take care of my young editor.’ That — ‘young editor’ who, in this manner, entered the employ of George Graham was Edgar Allan Poe.”

Mr. Graham bore clear and willing testimony to the efficient service rendered by Poe to the new magazine, which, now combined with the “Casket,” took the name of its new owner. From 5,000 subscribers, the number soon increased to over 37,000 (Smyth), — certainly a good sign of a new editor! Graham found little in Poe’s conduct to reprove, nor did he remember (continues Mr. Smyth) any cause beyond envy and malice for Griswold’s truculent slanders. A quarrel of an hour led to Poe’s dismissal, but the friendly relations between the poet and his former employer [page 140:] remained unsevered. From New York, Poe sent Graham the manuscript of a story for which he asked and received W. The story remained unpublished for a year, when Poe again appeared in the editorial room and begged for the return of the manuscript, that he might try with it for the prize of $100 offered by the “Dollar Magazine” for the best prose tale. Graham showed his “love and friendship” for the author by surrendering the story, and the judges awarded to Poe the prize for “The Gold-Bug.”

The “Dollar Magazine” began its career in January, 1843, and its publishers were the publishers of the “Ledger.” When George W. Childs purchased the “Ledger,” he bought also the “Dollar Magazine,” and changed its name to the “Home Weekly and Household Newspaper.” In it Hawthorne published, in 1851, “The Unpardonable Sin.”

Meanwhile, after the resignation of Poe, the magazine, still under Graham’s management, was edited by Ann S. Stephens and Charles J. Peterson, until Rufus Wilmot Griswold sat in the responsible chair. James Russell Lowell was a subordinate editor of the magazine as early as 1843 and invited Hawthorne, at the instance of Poe, to become a contributor. Graham himself took a large hand in the editorial conduct of his magazine, though after Griswold’s dismissal, the well-known critic E. P. Whipple wrote the editorial reviews of more important books.

Beginning with Volume XVIII., being the addition of the ten volumes of Atkinson’s “Casket,” and the seven volumes of Burton’s “Gentleman’s Magazine,” Graham’s first volume, in 1841, was distinguished by the appearance of Poe’ s “Descent into the Maelström,” [page 141:] and his “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” On the cover of Volume XXI., 1842, appears the name of Griswold; and Bayard Taylor and Charles Godfrey Leland were successive editors.

According to Graham’s own statement (Smyth, 223), the circulation of the magazine at the height of its popularity never exceeded 35,000, or 37,000. He sold the magazine in 1848, but bought it back in 1849, parting with it definitely only in 1854.

No publication of the day, on this side of the water, had so many and such remarkable contributors, Washington Irving being the only prominent literary American of the day who held aloof. He was the editor of the rival “Knickerbocker,” which is said jealously to have guarded the productions of its one great writer. In “Graham’s” appeared Longfellow’s “Spanish Student,” “Belfry of Bruges,” “Nuremberg,” “Childhood,” “The Arsenal at Springfield,‘’ and other poems. Hawthorne’s “Twice-Told Tales” largely appeared first in “Graham’s.” George D. Prentice, Fanny Forrester, Alice and Phœbe Cary, Grace Greenwood, William Gilmore Simms, Miss Sedgwick, Frances S. Osgood, N. P. Willis, J. K. Paulding, Park Benjamin, W. W. Story, Charles Fenno Hoffman, and Albert Pike (of “Isadore” fame) were among the writers who aided to surround the new venture with a halo of literary glory.

And this glory came from Graham’s honest recognition of the fact than his contributors must be well paid: the first American magazine manager that recognized such business responsibilities. The popularity of the new magazine, under the new management and with such a corps of contributors, was almost instantaneous. [page 142:]

The other — the Evil — angel of Poe’s life was Griswold, who succeeded him in the editorial chair of “Graham’s.”

The Rev. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, D. D., was a Baptist minister who divided his time between literature and religion. Born in Vermont in 1815, he was of excellent Puritan and English lineage, with marked literary tastes and acquirements and so indefatigable as a compiler and editor that though dying at the early age of forty-two, in 1857, he left behind an immense mass of work in history, memoirs, editions, and compilations creditable to his taste and skill. Among the journals he edited were “The New Yorker,” “The Brother Jonathan,” “The New World,” “Graham’s Magazine” (1842-1843), and “The International Magazine.” His contributions to journalism alone would fill a dozen octavo volumes, while he wrote six or eight independent works on history, biography, philosophy, and theology, with poems, and a novel.

But the work which of all others has endowed Griswold’s name with immortality — an “immortality of infamy,” as George R. Graham calls it — is “The Works of Edgar A. Poe; Poems, Tales, and Miscellanies; with a Memoir;” two vols., 1849, followed by a third containing the notorious suppressed biography, and a fourth, completing the publication.

All the authorities of the time gave unstinted praise to Griswold as a compiler; the poet Campbell, Whipple, Irving, Poe, Prescott the historian, Bryant, Tuckerman, and other eminent literati praised the collections dedicated to the American poets and prose writers of the first jubilee of the century, works which are, indeed, invaluable for the facts they contain and for what they have rescued from oblivion. Griswold [page 143:] possessed, too, a brilliant and pungent style, which reveals itself often in the Poe Memoir and a critical gift — delicate, incisive, penetrating — of no mean order. With all the masculine strength and untiring industry that he displayed was mingled, however, one soft, one weak spot: he believed himself to be a poet; and on this spot Poe — as might have been expected — infallibly put his finger.

But in contrasting these good and evil demons of Poe’s existence so much at length, the conscientious biographer should not overlook the smaller but likewise significant agencies that contributed to mould and round out existence for him at this time.

Among these were Dr. N. C. Brooks of Baltimore and his, “American Museum,” published in the Monumental City, “The Gift“’ (Miss Leslie’s “Annual“), the Pittsburg “Literary Examiner,” and Burton’s “Gentleman’s Magazine.”

Instead of writing a review of Irving, whom he did not like but considered an ” overrated writer” of “surreptitious and adventitious reputation,” of “tame propriety and faultlessness of style” — as Dr. Brooks had requested him — Poe sent the freshest and most powerful of his tales — the dream-tale — Ligeia,” said on the margin of Ingram’s copy, in a MS. note, to have been dreamed, like Kubla Khan, while he was asleep.

In December, 1838, Poe contributed to “The American Museum,” “The Signora Zenobia,” and. “The Scythe of Time” (rechristened, later, “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” and “A Predicament“).

“The Gift” for 1839 energized him into writing his story of dualism, the favorite Doppelgänger idea [page 144:] of German literature, “William Wilson,” in which he dramatizes Conscience and makes it subordinate to the animal nature. The old balladry of England and Germany is full of the story of the man of two natures so loosely amalgamated that they slip asunder and the evil one goes forth to roam at the midnight hour, or the good one fiercely incarnates itself and confronts the other: ideas as old as the ancient Persian dualism of Light and Dirtiness, of Ormuzd and Ahriman dallied with by Shelley, and Hawthorne, and Calderon, and Stevenson, and Goethe (whose Faust and Mephisto appear simply radiations of the good and the evil in a naturally combined Faust-Mephisto) . Poe has artistically slipped the razorlike edge of his analysis in between these twin natures, separated their sutures without the spilling of blood, and set them adrift as marvellous automata, to play over against each other.

“The Museum” for April contained “The Haunted Palace,” and the “Gentleman’s Magazine” for September “The Fall of the House of Usher,” two masterpieces which by a sort of magnetic affinity ultimately ran together and were combined in one story. Of this combined masterpiece Lowell said in — Graham’s ” for February, 1845

” As an example of his style we would refer to one of his tales, ‘The House of Usher,’ in the first volume of his’ Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque.’ It has a singular charm for us, and we think that no one could read it without being strongly moved by its serene and sombre beauty. Had its author written nothing else it would alone have been enough to stamp him as a man of genius, and the master of a classic style. In this tale occurs one of the most beautiful of his poems. It loses greatly by being taken out of [page 145:] its rich and appropriate setting, but we cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of copying it here. We know no modern poet who might not have been justly proud of it.” [Here he quotes “The Haunted Palace,” and adds:]

“Was ever the wreck and desolation of a noble mind so musically sung?”

In a note evidently inspired by Poe himself this number of “Graham’s” (p. 52) says:

“Since the publication of the ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,’ Mr. P. has written, for this and other journals, the following tales, independently of essays, criticisms, etc.: ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget,’ ‘Never Bet Your Head’ [sic],’ A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,’ ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ ‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una,’ — ‘The Landscape Garden’ [sic], ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’’ The Black Cat,’ ‘The Man of the Crowd,’ ‘The System of Doctors Tarr and Fether’ [sic], ‘The Spectacles,’ I The Elk,’ ‘The Business Man,’ ‘The Premature Burial,’ ‘The Oblong Box,’ ‘Thou Art the Man,’ ‘Eleonora,’’ Three Sundays in a Week,’ ‘The Island of the Fay,’ ‘Life in Death,’ ‘The Angel of the Odd,’ ‘The Literary Life of Thingum-Bob,’ ‘The Descent into the Maelström,’ ‘The 1002-Tale of Scheherazade,’’ Mesmeric Revelation,’ ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Purloined Letter,’ and ‘The Gold Bug.’ He is also the author of the late Balloon-Hoax. The ‘Grotesque and Arabesque’ included twenty-five tales.”

“The Haunted Palace” appeared in April, and in the following November appeared Longfellow’s “Beleaguered City” in the “Southern Literary Messenger.” [page 146:] A furious controversy arose in which Poe accused the New England poet of stealing his idea. The reader may judge for himself by comparing the two poems.

There was no reason for Poe’s jealousy of Longfellow since the poems are as unlike as charcoal and diamond. Poe never seems to have realized that he could not be plagiarized, that he was too unique and original to be copied, that Poe could not under any circumstances be Longfellow. The pretty and picturesque conceit of “The Beleaguered City,” is as different from the glory and ghostliness of “The Haunted Palace” as the solemn, almost insane head of Dante is from that of a cherub afloat in one of Correggio’s ceilings.

The year 1839 was signalized by two events, — one unimportant, but remarkable as showing the spirit of his enemies, the publication of “The Conchologist’s First Book”; the other as witnessing the issue of perhaps the most original volume of short stories ever published — the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.”

As we write, the first and second editions of the manual on conchology (1839, 1840: Philadelphia Haswell, Barrington, & Haswell ) are before us. The facsimile of the title-page of the edition of 1839 reveals all the minutiae of the descriptive title once in vogue. This is followed by a preface signed E. A. P., explaining the terms Malacology and Conchology, with acknowledgments to Mr. Isaac Lea of Philadelphia and Mr. Thomas Wyatt, “and his late excellent Manual of Conchology.‘” Three pages of introduction, with quotations from De Blainville, Parkinson, and Bergman — pages very agreeably written — introduce [page 147:] twelve pages of engraved plates of shells, their parts, hinges, etc. Chapters on — Explanation of the Parts of Shells,” and on ,Classification,” then fill up fourteen or fifteen pages more; when at p. 25 the body of the text begins, and extends to p. 146 inclusive. A “Glossary” and “Index” complete the volume, which contains ten pages fewer than the slightly enlarged edition of 1840. The outside cover has a stamped illustration of shells, weeds, and grasses, and the book is bound in paper hoards, and copyrighted in Poe’s name.

Poe’s course in the composition of this work up to page ao was undoubtedly irregular and reprehensible in not calling attention to the fact that the first twenty pages of the work, including preface, introduction, and explanation of the shells, were a close paraphrase of Captain Thomas Brown’s “Conchologist’s Text-Book,” published in Glasgow in 1837, — whence also Poe’s plates are drawn. The remainder of the book is a bit of “job work ” arranged between Professor Wyatt, Professor McMurtrie, and Poe, — Poe’s “name being put to the work, as best known and most likely to aid its circulation.” “I wrote the Preface and Introduction, and translated from Cuvier the accounts of the animals, etc. All schoolbooks are necessarily made in a similar way. The very title-page acknowledges that the animals are given ‘according to Cuvier.‘” (Poe, February, 1847.)

Wyatt, it seems, had published through the Harpers an expensive work that would not sell; hence, turning to Poe as a brilliant and necessitous littérateur of the day, willing and anxious for a “pot-boiler,” he engaged the poet to popularize the work and issue an edition under his own (Poe’s) name. Wyatt sold the [page 148:] book himself and is, jointly with Poe, responsible for it and its exhibition of moral obliquity.

The translation and digest of Lemmonnier’s “Natural History,” attributed to Poe, cannot now be traced to him, though he speaks of his intimate knowledge of it in Burton’s “Gentleman’s Magazine” for July, 1839.

In July, 1839, he became associate-editor with the comedian Burton of “The Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review,” the enterprise of a histrionic Englishman who claimed to be a graduate of Cambridge University. Some of his old poems, booknotices, reviews of various kinds, “The Man That Was Used Up,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (the last three appearing for the first time) summed up his contributions to “Burton’s” from July to December, the last two alone being sufficient to make the reputation of an unknown writer.

At this point, in a two-volume publication copyrighted in 1839, published by Lea & Blanchard, of Philadelphia, and dedicated to Colonel William Drayton, the student reaches the first golden milestone in the poet’s career. At thirty years of age, before George Eliot or Emerson or, one might say, Walter Scott had begun to write, Poe had produced most of the prose and much of the verse upon which his enduring fame will rest.

All the Poe types reveal themselves in these volumes and stand before us in statuesque perfection: the lonely forlorn woman stricken with early disease and death; the tale of terror and conscience; the old-world romance charged with poetic German mediaevalism the story whose germ is found in an exquisite [page 149:] poem imbedded in the text, like the Mignon poems of the Wilhelm Meister; the wonderful fictions of pseudo-science in which imagination scarce outdoes reality; the eloquent Platonic dialogue discussing the high themes of immortality, the emotions and sensations of death and the death-chamber, or the destruction of the globe; the humorous grotesque in which whims and vices are scored with a fun and fancy that recall the quaint mythologic life and quainter landscapes on the walls of a Pompeian villa; life-in-death with its dramatic self-realization and infinitely subtle self-analysis; and the wondrous fables of Silence and Shadow that recall the marvellous allegories of Novalis or of Schleiermacher. The ratiocinative tale alone is absent from these 500 pages, — a genre soon to develop with swift and magic force in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Gold-Bug.” What Poe did in the remaining decade of his life was to refine, polish, amplify this already ample achievement, and to add those inimitable “jingle” poems which Emerson, having no sense of rhythm himself, strove vainly to sneer out of existence with an epithet.

To have accomplished all this in three decades, handicapped as Poe was by disease, illness, poverty, want, and persecution, was to achieve a high and noble distinction that places him even above the young immortals, Keats and Andre Chenier, who possessed solely the gift of song.

The 1840 edition of the “Tales” was entered in the clerk’s office for the eastern district of Pennsylvania in 18 39. The following is the title-page copied from the original:

“Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. | By [page 150:] Edgar A. Poe. | (Seltsamen tochter Jovis selnem schosskinde Der Phantasie. — GOETHE.) | In two volumes. | Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard. 1840.

“Dedication. — These Volumes are Inscribed to Colonel William Drayton, of Philadelphia, with every Sentiment of Respect, Gratitude, and Esteem, By his obliged Friend and Servant, THE AUTHOR.

Preface. — The epithets ‘Grotesque’ and ‘Arabesque’ will be found to indicate with sufficient precision the prevalent tenor of the tales here published. But from the fact that, during a period of some two or three years, I have written five-and-twenty short stories whose general character may be so briefly defined, it cannot be fairly inferred — at all events it is not truly inferred — that I have, for this species of writing, any inordinate, or indeed any peculiar taste or prepossession. I may have written with an eye to republication in volume form, and may, therefore, have desired to preserve, as far as a certain point, a certain unity of design. This is, indeed, the fact; and it may even happen that, in this manner, I shall never compose anything again. I speak of these things here, because I am led to think it is this prevalence of the ‘Arabesque’ in my serious tales, which has induced one or two critics to tax me, in all friendliness, with what they have pleased to term . Germanism’ and gloom. The charge is in bad taste, and the grounds of the accusation have not been sufficiently considered. Let us admit, for the moment, that the ‘phantasy-pieces’ now given are Germanic, or what not. Then Germanism is “the vein” for the time being. Tomorrow I may be anything but German, as yesterday I was everything else. These many pieces are yet one book. My friends would be quite as wise in taxing [page 151:] an astronomer with too much astronomy, or an ethical author with treating too largely of moms. But the truth is that, with a single exception, there is no one of these stories in which the scholar should recognize the distinctive features of that species of pseudo-horror which we are taught to call Germanic, for no better reason than that some of the secondary names of German literature have become identified with its folly. If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul — that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results.

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

Contents of Vol. I. — Morella; Lionizing; William Wilson; The Man that was Used Up; The Fall of the House of Usher; The Duc de l’Omelette; MS. Found in a Bottle; Bon-Bon; Shadow; The Devil in the Belfry; Ligeia; King Pest; The Signora Zenobia; The Scythe of Time.

Contents of Vol. II. — Epimanes; Siope; Hang Phaall [sic]; A Tale of Jerusalem; Von Jung; Loss of Breath,; Metzengerstein; Berenice; Why the Little Frenchman weans his Hand in a Sling; The Visionary; The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.

“Appendix containing a criticism of R. A. [page 152:] Locke’s famous ‘Moon Hoax,’ in addition to Poe’s short note to ‘Hans Phaall’].”

Of these prose romances Mr. Andrew Lang, in his “Letters to Dead Authors,” writes:

“An English critic . . . has described them as ‘Hawthorne and delirium tremens.’ I am not aware that extreme orderliness, masterly elaboration, and unchecked progress towards a predetermined effect are characteristics of the visions of delirium. If they be, then there is a deal of truth in the criticism, and a good deal of delirium tremens in your style. But your ingenuity, your completeness, your occasional luxuriance of fancy and wealth of jewel-like words, are not, perhaps, gifts which Mr. Hawthorne had at his command. He was a great writer — the greatest writer in prose fiction whom America has produced. But you and he have not much in common, except a certain mortuary turn of mind and a taste for gloomy allegories about the workings of conscience.

“For your stories has been reserved a boundless popularity, and that highest success — the success of a perfectly sympathetic translation. By this time of course you have made the acquaintance of your translator, M. Charles Baudelaire.”

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 123, running to the bottom of page 124:]

1.  The author (who had formed this view independently) was glad to we it confirmed by Mr. Appleton Morgan, “The Personality of [page 124:] Poe” (Munsey’s Magazine, July, 1897), and by the experts is handwriting to whom he submitted Poe’s MSS.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 128:]

1.  New York Evening Mail, December, 1870; Ingram, I., 143.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 131:]

1.  Ingram, I., 146.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 135:]

1.  Life of Edgar A. Poe, p. 100; Chatto and Windus: 1878.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of p. 138]

1.  Century Magazine, Sept. 1894, p. 737.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 139:]

1.  A. H. Smyth: Philadelphia Magazines and their Contributors: 1892.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - CWEAP, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Complete Works of E. A. Poe (Vol. 01 - Biography) (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 06)