[Text, Charles Frederick Briggs, [preview notice of The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe], Holden's Dollar Magazine (New York, NY), vol. IV, December 1849, pp. 765-766


[page 765:]


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The prominent topic of conversation in literary circles, during the past month, has been the death of that melancholy man Edgar A. Poe. Mr. Poe left his home, in Westchester County, in this State, early in the Summer on a visit to the South, and we were told at the time that his mother-in-law, Mrs Clemm, who was his sole companion, had no expectations of ever again seeing him return. He arranged all his papers so that they could be used without difficulty in case of his death, and told her that if he never came back she would find that he had left everything in order. But there was no cause to apprehend that the termination of his career was so close at hand. He went to Richmond where he delivered a series of lectures and was well received by his old friends; he renewed his attachment to a wealthy widow in that city, whom he had known before his or her marriage, and was on his way home to make arrangements for his marriage to her, when he had a relapse of his besetting infirmities in Baltimore, and died miserably.

A biography of Mr. Poe is soon to be published with his collected writings, under the supervision of Rev. Rufus W. Griswold; but it will be a long while, if ever, before the naked character of the sad poet will be exposed to public gaze. There is a generous disposition on the part of those who knew him intimately, to bury his failings, or rather personal characteristics, in the shade of forgetfulness; while nothing is dwelt upon but his literary productions. He was a psychological phenomenon, and more good than harm would result from a clear, unprejudiced analysis of his character. But when will any one be found bold enough to incur the risk of an imputation of evil motives, by making such a revelation as the task demands? Like all other writers, Mr. Poe developed himself in his literary productions, but to understand his writings it was necessary to be possessed of the key of his personal acquaintance. Knowing him thoroughly, you could thoroughly comprehend what he wrote, but not otherwise. He was an intellectual machine without a balance wheel; and all his poetry, which seems perfect in itself, and full of feeling, was mere machine work. It was not that spontaneous outgushing of sentiment, which the verse of great poets seems to be, but a carefully constructed mosaic, painfully elaborated, and designedly put together, with every little word in its right place, and every shade of thought toned down to its exact position. There is nothing of the ‘fine frenzy’ about it, which marks the poetry of those who warble their native wood notes wild. — [page 766:] His last poem, the ‘Bells’, is a curious example of his way of jingling words to make them sound like music:

“Bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells, bells.”

This was the burden of the song. Yet, ever and anon, in this strange jingling and clanging of words, there struck upon the ear sounds of a real sadness, which touched the heart and produced the feeling produced by the strain of the true poet. But, was not Poe a true poet? That remains for the world to decide. If he was a poet, he cannot be deprived of criticism of his rightful fame. His merits as a critic were very slender, he was a minute detector of slips of the pen, and, probably, was unequalled as a proof reader. But such was his sensitiveness to small imperfections, that it incapacitated him from taking a comprehension or liberal survey of a literary subject. He was of the Doctor Blair school of critics, and while measuring the lines of a poem was indifferent to their meaning. One of the strange points of his strange nature was to entertain a spirit of revenge towards all who did him a service. His pecuniary difficulties often compelled him to solicit aid, and he rarely, or never, failed to malign those who befriended him. It was probably this strange propensity which caused him to quarrel with his early benefactor, and forfeit the aid which he might have received from that quarter. He was altogether a strange and fearful being, and a true history of his life would be more startling than any of the grotesque romances which he was so fond of inventing.




Note: Although unsigned, Briggs was the editor of Holden's Dollar's Magazine beginning in 1848.



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