Text: Edgar Allan Poe to James Russell Lowell — October 19, 1843 (LTR-164)


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Philadelphia, Oct. 19. 1843.

My Dear Friend,

I was upon the point of fulfilling a long neglected duty and replying to Mr Carter’s letter, enclosing $5, when I received yours of the 13th, remitting 5 more. Believe me I am sincerely grateful to you both for your uniform kindness and consideration.

You say nothing of your health — but Mr C. speaks of its perfect restoration, and I see, by your very M S., that you are well again, body & mind. I need not say that I am rejoiced at this — for you must know and feel that I am. When I thought of the possible loss of your eye-sight, I grieved as if some dreadful misfortune were about happening to myself.

I shall look with much anxiety for your promised volume. Will it include your “Year’s Life” and other poems already published? I hope that it may; for these have not yet been fairly placed before the eye of the world. I am seeking an opportunity to do you justice in a review, and may find it, in “Graham,” when your book appears. No poet in America has done so much. I have maintained this upon all occasions. Mr Longfellow has genius, [page 2:] but by no means equals you in the true spirit. He is moreover so prone to imitation that I know not how to understand him at times. I am in doubt whether he should not be termed an arrant plagiarist. You have read his “Spanish Student”? I have written quite a long notice of it for Graham’s December number. The play is a poor composition, with some fine poetical passages. His “Hymn to the Night”, with some strange blemishes, is glorious. — How much I should like to interchange opinions with you upon poems and poets in general! I fancy that we should agree, usually, in results, while differing, frequently, about principles. The day may come when we can discuss everything at leisure, in person.

You say that your long poem has taught you a useful lesson “that you are unfit to write narrative — unless in a dramatic form”. It is not you that are unfit for the task — but the task for you — for any poet. Poetry must eschew narrative — except, as you say, dramatically. I mean to say that the true poetry — the highest poetry — must eschew it. The Iliad is not the highest. The connecting links of a narration — the frequent passages which have to serve the purpose of binding together the parts of the story, are necessarily prose, from their very explanatory nature. To color them — to gloss over their prosaic nature — (for this is the most which can be done) requires great skill. Thus Byron, who was no artist, is always driven, in his narrative, to fragmentary passages, eked out with asterisks. Moore succeeds better than any one. His “Alciphron” is wonderful in the force, grace, and nature of its purely narrative passages: — but pardon me for prosing.

I send you the paper with my life and portrait. The former is true in general — the latter particularly false. [page 3:] It does not convey the faintest idea of my person. No one of my family recognised it. But this is a point of little importance. You will see, upon the back of the biography, an announcement that I was to assume the editorship of the “Museum”. This was unauthorized. I never did edit it. The review of “Graham’s Magazine” was written by H. B. Hirst — a young poet of this city.

Who is to write your life for “Graham?” It is a pity that so many of these biographies were entrusted to M, Griswold. He certainly lacks independence, or judgment, or both.

I have tried in vain to get a copy of your “Years Life” in Philadelphia. If you have one, and could spare it, I would be much obliged.

Do write me again when you have leisure, and believe me,

Your most sincere friend,
Edgar A Poe

J. R. Lowell Esqre


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to J. R. Lowell (LTR164/RCL457)