Text: George R. Graham, “Editorial: To Rev. Rufus Wilmot Griswold,” Graham’s Magazine, vol. XXXVII, no. 5, November 1850, p. 327


[page 327, bottom of col. 1:]





MY DEAR PARSON, — I knew you would be gratified with my friendly notice of you in the March number of the “Graham” — and your pleasant start of surprise, to express your ignorance of the writer, was well conceived — you wicked wag. People who do not know your ways might almost think you were honest for once in your life, — but I, who have seen you in your happy moods, understand what an exquisite point to your wit a falsehood imparts, and what a choice bit of clerical drollery you consider it, to offer to swear to an untruth.

You have adjusted, now, your long score with poor [column 2:] Poe, to your own satisfaction, I hope; for ignorant people will say, that this settlement of accounts after the death of your friend may be honest — and — may not be. You see it lays you open to suspicion, and may soil the surplice you wear. Your clerical mantle, like Charity, may cover a multitude of sins, but you should not wear it too unguardedly. Charity for the errors of the dead, you know, is allowable in funeral sermons, even over the cold remains of those the world scorned and spurned as its veriest reprobates. Even you will not class your friend — who you say was reconciled to you before he died — with outcasts who forfeit even the last offices of humanity. You would give even him a Christian burial. “Dust to dust — ashes to ashes,” methinks, should bury all animosities. You should not pursue your victim beyond the grave, and in the same hour pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This would be horrible.

Now it will not do, my dear parson, to attempt to carry off this departure from Christian practice, with an affection of great equity, in the performance of duty. “Give the devil his due” may be a very orthodox maxim, but you seem, in adopting it, to have started with the hypothesis that you had a devil to deal with; yet in the exercise of justice thus liberally, it would seem but fair to meet even this Personage face to face, that he might dispute the account if he felt aggrieved at your estimate. This last point, I think, you have a fair chance of attaining. Nor will it do to affect courage and devotion to truth. It is very well to say, that vice should be held up that its deformity may be seen, to startle and deter others. You should be sure that the vice of your brother is not his misfortune, and that the sin which taints your own fingers, may not turn crimson in contrast before the eyes of the gazers. Courage, my dear parson, is a relative term. You may think it great courage, and a duty you owe to truth, to assail your friend for wishing to evade a matrimonial engagement, yet it would be the veriest weakness and wickedness — if you had set the worse example of evading your marital duties after the solemnization. He who sacrifices at the altar should have clean hands.

The jewels which sometimes ornament the remains of beauty or worth have tempted, before now, gentlemen of hardy nerve, but I do not remember that these have ever taken rank in the annals of knight-errantry. And, my dear parson — I am talking somewhat freely with, but you must pardon me — the feat that you have performed with so much unction, despoiling of the fame of a man who intrusted it to you as jewel of inestimable value to him, has not received the applause of a single man of honor. Your claquers themselves, feel that your performance is damned. I have no doubt that some faint glimpses of the truth have reached even your mind. I would have you pray over this subject, my dear sir, for your feet stand upon slippery places. In all sincerity, I would have you revise your creed and reform your practice; for you do not seem to get even the poor applause of the world, for wrong-doing.


Philadelphia, Sept. 20. 1850



This item was brought to the attention of the Poe Society of Baltimore by Ton Fafianie, in an e-mail dated December 22, 2016.

Graham is clearly replying to comments that Griswold added to his “Memoir” of Poe, printed in the third volume of The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, first issued in September 1850. The “Memoir” itself was an expansion of the obituary of Poe that Griswold originally wrote for the New York Tribune of October 9, 1849. Noting the publication of the first two volumes of the collection in January 1850, Graham objected in the March 1850 issue of his magazine in “The Late Edgar Allan Poe” to comments from Griswold’s article that were included in N. P. Willis’ “Death of Edgar A. Poe,” serving as one of two introductory notes to the edition, the second being an article by James R. Lowell. Graham defended Poe staunchly with all the verbal tools at his disposal, and not refraining from harsh words and personal attacks. He said, for example, that Griswold’s account was “dastardly” and “false,” and alluded to Griswold himself as having a “warped and uncongenial” mind. In a way, Griswold, at least temporarily, got the final laugh in the argument as his “Memoir” accompanied reprintings of the Poe collection for several decades, while Graham’s strong reponse has been mostly forgotten.

This letter, however, was reprinted as “Edgar Poe Again” in Sunny South (Atlanta, GA), vol. V, whole no. 215, August 23, 1879, p. 2, col. 5. The introductory note was signed by Mrs. M. Louise Crossley:

Last year there appeared in the “Sunny South” an able review of Mr. W. F. Gill’s Biography of Edgar Poe. This review, written by Paul H. Hayne, threw a welcome ray of light upon the life, or rather upon the “somewhat complex characteristics” of the traduced poet. Not long since an old volume of Graham’s Magazines fell into my hands, and it contained the following letter, written by the editor Dr. Griswold, the notorious defamer of the gifted and lamented Poe. It confirms some of Mr. Hayne’s statements in his review, and its quiet, ingenious sarcasm is refreshing. I give it entire.


Mrs. Crossley apparently contributed to the Southern Literary Companion, under the pen name Currer Lyle, and various newspapers under the pseudonym of “Rena” (see The Living Female Writers of the South, 1872, pp. 342-343) She was born M. Louise Rogers, in Athens, GA, and married J. T. Crossley in May 1866, and thereafter lived in Columbus, Florida.


[S:0 - GM, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Editorial: To the Rev. Rufus Wilmot Griswold (G. R. Graham, 1850)