Text: John Savage, “Edgar Allan Poe,” United States Democratic Review, February 1851, pp. 162-172


[page 162:]



IN those transactions, on Poe’s part, we find little common sense and less  courtesy. That he was capable of love, we have proofs; but that he used  his first benefactors as circumstances prompted, we have also proofs. We attribute this to the unbounded affection and promises lavished upon him by them from boyhood, until he had actually grown into the idea that he was entitled to the patrimony, and that they liked him so much that he could conciliate them at any time. We do not say those things to lessen him, for we are predisposed in his favor, by his genius and rare mental power; but conscientiously reviewing his life, those things prominently stand out, as leading to all his after-life misfortune; and we say again, they were the effects of having a great benefactor, whose extreme kindness in youth had waylaid the otherwise steady and well-intended energy of the construction of the future man. There were other failings in his character which, unfortunately, “grew with his growth,” and it is with extreme sorrow that we have read anecdotes of him which the circumstances prove to be true; and heard anecdotes of him, from respectable sources, which betray a cunning, that even misfortune cannot excuse. We may try (as we have done repeatedly) to excuse them to ourself, through a willingness to do so, and a wish to blot them from our memory; or to our friends, when they introduce the subject of his private life; through our appreciation of his genius; but we find the very fact of their gaining on us but slowly, has made their tenure on our mind of a more redoubtable nature than we anticipated.

We approach, however, (and we are glad of it,) the period when we  must look at him otherwise than into his private matters and character; when we must, as it were, close the book of his life, and open that of his labors. And we would wish to shut him up in the tomb, as he is, and think alone of his books. This in many cases is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible; for, as Dr. Griswold tells us, “nearly all that he wrote in the last two or three years, including much of his best poetry, was in sonic sense biographical.” Yet can we not still think of him as the hero of a poem or tale, and be blind to him as a man? We will try and promise our readers our candid impressions. We henceforth view him as a LITERARY MAN.

We capitalize those words — LITERARY MAN — in the same spirit as we would, on a friend’s tomb, inscribe his name in larger letters than his age, birth, or death; and because Fate has made those words of world-wide import. Over how many graves might they not be sculptured with the same meaning; and to how many various men do they not give the sorrowful indices of unhappy lives and fates! Combined, those words have more sorrowful character, yet more nobility withal, than the Martyrology can furnish to support its claims to the title of the one, or the Peerage Books of France or England, with all their haughty emblazonings and crowded shields, can herald for that of the other. The mere whispering to ourselves of those words makes us the centre of a blessed crowd, who rise to the conjuration, as the attendant genii waited on the lamp of Aladdin. [page 163:] Crowding memories and crowding spirits are here — here — from Homer to Tasso, from Milton to Mangan and Poe. Our heart chokes as they show us and open to us a pathway to antiquity — that brilliant pathway, palpitating with a surge of moans and tortures. They must think we are some hellish epicurean, that we could enjoy a journey over this strata of skulls and immortality. No, we must turn hence to the last and nearest plank on that “bridge of sighs,” and contemplate the grotesque adamant of which it is shaped. It at the convulsion of matter, when this little earth — this little fret-work of immortal bones, is shaken, the heralding angel would divide mind from body, it needs but think those talismanic words, to raise the genius of a world in a thought.

Poe had, in a fit of disappointment, and under the despair caused by his West Point disgrace, the death of Mr. Allan, and an unsuccessful attempt to attract some attention by contributions to the public journals, enlisted as a private soldier. How long he remained in the service, Dr. Griswold was unable to ascertain, and the fact is not mentioned by other biographers. Suffice it to know, “he was recognized by officers who had known him at West Point;” and efforts were being made to obtain for him a commission, when it was found that he had deserted.  

He seems now to have made up his mind for a Literary Life, and an occurrence of rather a hopeful nature determined him in that course. The “Baltimore Visitor” having offered a prize for a Poem and Tale, to be won by competition, Poe was fortunate enough to gain both, and also a declaration from the judges, that, of six tales which he sent in, the worst was better than the best of all the other competitors. Prize essays have been generally awarded the distinction of always being much inferior to works composed under different circumstances, and, we believe, with much truth. However it may be, Poe’s proves an exception to that conjecture, which is fast gaining the importance of a literary dogma. The Tale, which received the prize, was that intense and exciting performance, “MS. Found in a Bottle.” The Poem, which was in blank verse, betrays much of that power of contrast and description, which his pen moulded into such extraordinary and exciting forms afterwards. Here is an extract to our purpose. It is from the “Coliseum,” the prize poem alluded to.  

“Here, where a hero fell, a column falls!

  Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold,

  A midnight vigil holds the swarthy bat!

  Here, where the dames of Rome their gilded hair

  Waved to the wind, now wave the reed and thistle!

  Here, where on golden throne the monarch lolled,

  Glides spectre-like unto his marble home,

  Lit by the wan light of the horned moon,

  The swift and silent lizard of the stones!”

This affair procured him some true friends in Baltimore, among whom was Mr. Kennedy, author of “Horse Shoe Robinson,” who lost no opportunity to serve the young author. It takes genius to appreciate genius, and Mr. Kennedy saw through the texture of Poe’s mind. Shortly after, we find him writing to Mr. White, Proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger, then but a few months started. [page 164:]

“BALTIMORE, April 13, 1835.

“Dear Sir — Poe did right in referring to me. He is very clever with his pen — classical and scholar-like. He wants experience and direction, but I have no doubt he can be made very useful to you. And, poor fellow! he is very poor. I told him to write something for every number of your magazine, and that you might find it to your advantage to give him some permanent employ. He has a volume of very bizarre tales, in the hands of ————, in Philadelphia, who for a year past has been promising to publish them. This young fellow is highly imaginative, and a little given to the terrific. He is at work upon a tragedy, but I have turned him to drudging upon whatever may make money, and I have no doubt that you and he will find your account in each other.”

Mr. White engaged him as editor, and continuing in that position on the “Messenger,” with some slight interruptions, nearly two years — he raised the circulation from four hundred to the healthy enjoyment of “rather more than five thousand.” This was chiefly owing to the ability, and, in most instances, candor of his literary criticisms. He determined the profession should not degenerate in his hands, and mapped out in his own mind a course of earnestness and a critical standard, which he followed with decision and defended with ability. That his estimate of genius and talent, and the schools of literature, was generally correct, we are convinced. Of course we do not take into account those essays and sketches, in which embittered feelings or whimsical enmity seduced him to deal in personalities. But denuding his writings of those ill feelings — which we too often find genius ready to indulge in — and looking through their deformities, we find their critical opinions, with some exceptions, correct. Taking them as they are, like most deformed creatures, they are malicious, sneering, too apt to look down on people, when it required no effort to look them straight in the face. Perhaps, in the power of analysis, he has no equal at the present day; and, in our mind, he is seen more to advantage when using this particular faculty than in any other. That he makes the fabrics he afterwards takes asunder, is true. That he weaves a beautiful web, with all the assiduity and industry of a spider, and then unravels, even the most seemingly everlasting knot, in our opinion, entitles his genius to even more admiration than his critics will allow him. They consider. the fact of his making all his plots to be solved; or ravelling, for the sake of unravelling them, a sin which deducts from his meed of reputation. We think otherwise. If a man maketh a Labyrinth, which not only defies the ingenuity of all others, but actually bewilder the maker, so that having penetrated into its depths he stands in despair of egress, decidedly we may consider the labyrinth a triumph of skill in its way, yet our opinion of the man shall not be so decided. But if a man maketh a labyrinth equally bewildering to mankind, and after seducing persona in, and appalling them at their situation, but in the end can unravel that which he has ravelled, we consider him of superior ingenuity: one whose brain was more comprehensive; who did not rely on the situations or occurrences of such and such a turn, but whose mind comprehended the entire thing, as though it looked down on it from above, and saw it in a glance. The one is the martyr, the other the master of his own creation. The one loses, and never finds himself. The other loses himself to create an excitement, and finds himself to double the effect. The fact of an author knowing what he writes, and letting others know likewise, we do not think a fault, but quite the contrary. [page 165:] Our opinion seems to be backed up by some authors’ experiences. For instance, when Dickens was writing his “Dombey and Son,” and had created such a sensation by the masterly delineation of young Paul,  he quite unexpectedly announced the demise of that “wondrous boy.” It was asserted that even Dickens could not keep him alive. There is little doubt but his original idea was to have done so, or why call the book as he had? The fact seems to be, he began without a plan, as he generally does, and lavishing too much genius on the child, without knowing what he was going to make him, found he had made him too good for anything; consequently, had to smother him quietly, lest he should prove the bane of the author’s life. Thus we see how an author may get into a labyrinth, and not get clean out. Yet, as it is, the grisly skeleton of that sweet child enjoys an immortality which its maturer years, had it been permitted to have lived, perhaps might have dissipated. The greater pains an author takes in showing his acuteness and ingenuity — provided he does not become tiresome, which Poe never does — we consider the more praiseworthy, and entitles him to our good-will. One of the most noted painters of the “Old Masters,” Raffacle or Leonardo da Vinci, we believe, (our memory serves us not with the name of the painter, but the circumstance we have perfect,) used to paint his figures thus — first he would draw and paint the skeleton in the position the destined figure should occupy. Layer over layer he would then paint the muscles, beginning with those nearest to the bone, and thus gradually introducing the nerves and arteries, perfecting the origin and insertion of each muscle in its peculiar action, heighten the figure all but to nature, and then paint the skin over all his labor. Should we find fault with the artist for all this routine of study? Certainly not. It is only a genius who would dare such a self-test, and only a genius could pass through it with triumph. The time spent — not lost — in this exercise of pictorial anatomy, more than repaid his enthusiasm as a student by his perfection as an artist. And the praises of the comparative few, who saw the picture in its various stages of anatomical growth, to the many who saw the finished painting, decorating and enriching the gallery, palace or cathedral, was of more real gratification to the artist, because appreciated by his visitors; and because genius is always self-reliant in mesmerizing — so to speak — the many, while it is only doubtful of the appreciation of congenial intellectuality. The artist was an adept in the anatomical science, a we cannot but admire his ingenuity in its display. It is not enough that the sailor can rig a “seventy-four,” he should know the use, and how to use, every rope. The aeronaut, who could but raise his balloon, and who could not lower it, would excite neither praise for his daring, nor pity for his fate, but sneers for his impudence. And the mesmerist, who would put you to sleep, and could not awake you, in our opinion, ought to be tried for something more than manslaughter. Ingenuity, so long as it is vigorous, cannot be overtaxed; for by its own very power it will defy detection by the reader. It will become so very ingenious as to lose all appearance of it, as Tennyson’s poetry, being the work of a supreme artist, has the appearance of exquisite simplicity. It is artistically made to appear simple, as Poe’s fictions arc ingeniously wrought to look like facts. This, in our opinion, is one of Poe’s great recommendations — a rare gift, and so seldom to be met with fully sustained by the power, with which he supported all his plots, [page 166:] that it strikes even the most casual student of his works. We have lent his books to friends, who, having read one of his tales, returned the book, saying it was a horrible detail of circumstances, and that they wanted a story — a fiction, not a finely-written account of a blood-freezing occurrence. On being informed that it was a fiction they had been reading, they could with difficulty be persuaded of the fact, and on re-borrowing the book, had alternately to put it down in wonder, and read in delight, as we ourself had done. This is the very thing which argues his great power, and strengthens our opinion; and you feel that if he told you, that you yourself had paraded Broadway, walking on your hands, your legs in the air, and an umbrella, held at an angle of forty-five, under your right knee-pan, so circumstantially would he tell you how you managed it, and detail the incidents that might take place had you done so, that you should feel in most distressing doubt, if such was really the fact, and of your own sanity. But let us return to his career.

He married in Richmond with his cousin, Virginia Clemm, a beautiful girl, poor and gentle. From Richmond he went to Baltimore, thence to Philadelphia, and subsequently to New-York. In those cities he lived by his writings, and was connected with several of the leading magazines of the day. He was engaged with Dr. Hawks in writing for the “New-York Review.” in 1838. Had been chief editor of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” owned by Burton, the comedian, himself a writer of remarkable ability and comic power, in 1839; at the same time that he wrote for the “Literary Examiner,” of Pittsburgh — and in the autumn of that year published all the stories he had then written, in two volumes, under the title of “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” He continued his connection with “Burton’s” until June, 1840, and on the merging of that gentleman’s magazine with the “Casket,” Poe was engaged by Mr. G. R. Graham as editor of the new magazine, which has been so favorably known since as “Graham’s.” With this he remained a year and a half; and in it wrote several of his finest tales and criticisms, It is to be regretted that an uncertainty of character, formed by habits of dissipation, was the only spring of disagreement which rendered it necessary by the proprietors of the magazines he had been connected with, to seek for some other person, of more steady action, to guide their publications. After his dissociation from “Graham’s,” he stayed some time in Philadelphia, to establish a magazine of his own, to be called the “Stylus,” and might have succeeded, but for the “unfortunate notoriety of his habits.” In 1848, he removed to New-York, and was received into “circles capable of both the appreciation and the production of literature.” Soon after he had made New-York the field of his toil, he published that extraordinary poem, the “Raven,” which greatly increased his reputation. This he followed up and sustained by his “Mesmeric Revelations,” and “the Facts in the case of M. Valdemar;” two of the most exciting and truth-looking narratives ever penned, — and afterward was critic of the “Mirror,” editor of the Broadway Journal, a contributor to “Godey’s Magazine,” this Review, and other periodicals.

The situation of writer for the Reviews and Magazines is, at most times, of a very precarious nature, and in his case was more than usually so from the causes we have previously alluded to. Still, an author of his vast resources and power should have made both an easy living and a wide reputation, even through the magazines; but having, with his other [page 167:] infirmities, raised, through the best motives towards his profession, so many personal enemies, he found his efforts unsuccessful in striving to obtain the former, and would not have attained the latter, it’ the same tide could have swept both away. In this precarious life was he bound, going through many misfortunes, and heightening them by his whims and caprices, until friendly death quieted his unquiet brain too prematurely for his country’s literature, bat nearly a life-time behind his happiness. He died on Sunday evening, October 7th, 1849, aged thirty-eight, in a hospital in Baltimore.

As a poet, Edgar Allan Poe is entitled to a proud position among the poets of his country. Looking at his poetical productions with a view to their construction, power of exciting, or popularity, we find he is no way behind any other native poet. If the latter he taken os a criterion of his genius as a poet, then would he rank in the first place, for, undoubtedly, the most popular native poem is the “Raven,” excepting, perhaps, Mr. Longfellow’s “ Psalm of Life,” and that we have no hesitation in saying is more widely appreciated “ beyond the wave” than in its native country. Mr. Poe’s construction is always admirable, and his power of exciting intensely peculiar. Yet, Poe is far from being a great poet. There is a something more than admirable construction, and a power of excitement wanting, to constitute the poet. Soul — not the soul so frequently spoken of by canting theologians, which generally amounts to the renting of a fashionable pew in Trinity Church or St. Patrick’s — but soul — heart — that beautiful and transportable, but indescribable something, which illumines our feelings and sensations, as the smile of Omnipotence lights up, and makes buoyant a verdant valley, — that feeling which swells us into heroship, as we ponder over the Crusade wars, — that makes us a soldier of the cross at Ascalon, or a preserver of the holy Tomb at Jerusalem. That blessed feeling which makes us be a world-man — to see nature by inspiration, if we never left our birth-room. That is to be a poet — to have a mind and heart as large as a universe in an expanding ray of beatitude emanating from a point so small that, amid the brilliant halo, the origin is forgotten, and the soul is only seen. This is not always the case in Poe’s poetry. He is constantly before us. We see the point from which the light is coming. We are diverted from what ought to be the only attraction. No matter how fine Poe s verse, there is too frequently a mech~ nism about it, which we would rather forget, but cannot. He seems to take pride in this feature of his poetical compositions, as is very evident from his account of the manner in which he composed the “ Raven.” This does not detract from its merit, but does from its effect. Yet it is all that he intended it for. In that exquisite poem, there is a consciousness of effect, sometimes too evident for its author’s purpose, at the same time that there are some passages of fine natural passion and expression: for instance, —  

“Prophet.” said I, “ thing of evil — prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,

Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore,

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven, “Never more.”


  “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend, I shrieked, upstarting —

Get thee back into the tempest, and the Night’s Plutonian shore! [page 168:]

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken — quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven, “Never more.”

In those elegant stanzas, the question in the first quoted is not more beautifully put than the lover’s passion is portrayed in the second, on the answer of “ Never more.” The contrast, a peculiar power of Poe’s, attracts much attention: the one-worded bird, with its wiseacre look and dark guise stoically quaint, driving to madness the ardent, yet bewailing lover. The naturalness with which human passion finds vent, in our opinion, conveys the finest passage of the poem —” Be that word our sign of parting,” &c.; also, the cooling down, when there is more thought, and less violent passion, “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door.” The management of the situation and objects of this poem is quite in Poe’s vein, and is consequently perfect. The mechanism which makes us he conscious of the author’s presence in his poetry, is not at all evident in his prose. The reason is obvious. The very putting the thought into rhythm and rhyme, makes a consciousness of effect, while in the prose tale of the “ Gold Bug,” or the “Adventures of Hans Pfaall,” you read the uninterrupted narrative as you would a piece of bona fide news in a daily paper. The very bound with which this fine poem, “ The Raven,” springs along, leads to this consciousness which cannot be perceived in the prose relation of his most extraordinary concoctions. You know the poetry is the relation of something in the mind, — you are persuaded the prose is the relation of a fact. As we have said, this takes not from the merit of the poetry, but adds to that of the prose; and, on that account, we consider him much superior as a prose writer, than as a poet; at the same time, that we accord him a distinguished rank as a cultivator of the divine art.

As an artist of refined taste and exceeding skill in melody, his best poems bear striking testimony. Indeed, in this respect, he has no superior. He wields his power to the best advantage, and in some instances with remarkable potency; for instance, in that very exciting and fine chant, “The Bells.” It is really a most fascinating production, and we never read it but we have to rest after each verse, to let the reverberations of the “Bells” in thought die away

“On the bosom of the palpitating air,”

that we may commence the succeeding in silence. There is a strange swing, if we may use the word, in the concluding lines. As they front you on the page, they look redundant and uncallcd for — but read — read aloud; and the voice will naturally, and by identification with the poet, sink, and swell, and modulate its tones into mimic peals of joy or alarm bells. No writer knew better how far he could lead a reader, and how to hold his attention, than Poe; the poem in question is a striking evidence of this power. It is one of his poems in which you are not conscious of the author’s presence, the melody is so perfect, and the method so apt to the subject. The poem “to lichen” is really beautiful, full of the true poet’s aspiration, clad in exquisite language and rhythm. “Annabel Lee” is scarcely less beautiful, but decidedly less artistic. “Lenore,” [page 169:] “Eulalie,” and “Ulalume,” each have peculiar and catching traits; the last especially, which is not inferior to any of the author’s poetical compositions. The melancholy and metaphysical are Poe’s best opportunities, and he never loses either to indulge his favorite and most congenial faculties. “Ulalume” is of that combined class; and after you have read it, and set the book down, your brain is beating with the internal revolutions of some of the lines which contain the chief burden of the poem. Unwittingly you are repeating  

“The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crisped and sere —

The leaves they were withering and sere;

  It was night in the lonesome October,

Of my most immemorial year;

  It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid region of Weir —

  It was dawn by the dark tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

In the seventh stanza of this poem, how Poe could allow such a rhyme as “Vista,” and “Kissed Her,” and “Vista,” and “sister,” to take place, we are at a loss to imagine. In the case of any other poet using such cockney rhymes, we might pass it unnoticed; but in his, who spoke and wrote so much about these things, it strikes our ear rather awkwardly. Another instance of this is in his (slantingdicular) sonnet on Frances Osgood, entitled, “A Valentine,” where the rhyming of “Loeda “ and “reader “ occurs; also “early “ and “dearly,” in the sonnet “To My Mother;” and “valleys “ and “palace,” in the “Haunted Palace.” The following passage appears in “Al Aaraaf:”  

“Some have left the cool glade, and

Have slept with the bee —

Arouse them my maiden

On moorland and lea.”

For the rhyming of “glade, and,” with “maiden,” he gives an excuse (which is no excuse) in a note as follows:

“It is, however, imitated from Sir W. Scott, or rather from Claud Halero, in whose mouth I admired its effect:  

Oh were there an island,

Tho’ ever so wild,

Where woman might smile, and

No man be beguil’d, &c.”

island “ and “smile and “ are perfect in rhyme, which “glade, and,” and “maiden “ are not, as the most uneducated ear will at one perceive. At best this sort of criticism reminds us of the book-pedler that Gerald Griffin met in a London coffee-house, where some singular though unknown characters used to carry on a ‘Noctes.’ On some occasions all the parties present used to read a poem, the person following the reader to criticise the manner of the previous reading, and conclude by reading as he thought perfect. On one of these occasions Byron’s poem of “Fare [page 170:] thee well, and if for ever,” &c., was selected, and it had been read and twisted into all shapes and received all sorts of criticisms by the time it had arrived to the pedler’s turn to “give an opinion as was an opinion.” The last lines it will be recollected are —  

“Seared in heart, and love, and blighted,

More than this I scarce can die.”

The pedler admitted the reading admirable, and the pronunciation of the last speaker up to the last line — up to the very last word — perfect; but here he thought he observed a fault —” I speak under correction, gentlemen,” said he, “but it appeared to me that he pronounced the word die in the last line as if the dot was off the i.” We should not have spent time on those things (slight when compared with his attractive characteristics) but for the anomaly they present. He must have been quite conscious of those errors, therefore is the less excusable for their appearance, especially as he — supposing his critical writings to have had the effect sought for — created the taste which he thus unconcernedly rebels against.

The peculiar style of rhythm and expression in which some of his best known poems are written, and which is getting to be recognized as the “Poe school,” is erroneously supposed to have originated with him. The characteristics of that “style,” or “school,” have been long and well known in the British isles, as the peculiar feature of one of the finest modern poets — James Clarence Mangan. The readers of The Dublin University Magazine, and they arc many in this country, will readily remember the poems of this lately deceased poet, which for many a year formed one of the principal attractions in that magazine. The poems entitled “Echoes of Foreign Song,” and purporting to be translations from every language from ancient Irish to modern Chinese, but which were in general the fruit of the rich and varied brain of Mangan, display the most remarkable power of quaint yet perfect expression, flowing through the most eccentric meters and into the most harmonious rhyme, to be found within the poetry of any language. his professedly original poems were even more quaint, and nearly all, as in the case of Poe, tinged with a hue of autobiography. Like the latter, he was most unfortunate, but was of the gentlest disposition, and always on the most amicable terms with his brother authors. As a poet, Mangan had more varied genius than Poe; more soul, pure, lofty and ethereal. He walked the earth like a prophet, and lived, unfortunately for his land, to see seine of his prophecies fulfilled. He devoted his entire life to poetry; his prose would fill a dozen octavo pages; his beloved mistress held him a slave to the last. And, save two duodecimo volumes of “German Anthology,” his works are uncollected, and lie hidden amongst newspaper by-gones and magazine still-borns. If he had been a tenth-rate Scotchman, or a hundred and tenth-rate Londoner, his poems would long ago have read wondrously on vellum paper, or blinded window gazers with the gilt embellishments. All the wind of the quarterlies and the machinery of the London presses would have annihilated each other in praising him; but alas, the curse of Swift was upon him, he was a “genius and an Irishman.” He wrote some of the most beautiful poetry of the century — walked a path in verse, which closed up behind, and you see nothing but the light gleaming from his brain as he passed — gave a nation striving for [page 171:]   its highest benison — its freedom —— some of its highest aspirations and most forcible thoughts, and — our heart nearly chokes in the utterance — died — died in a fever shed. Poe was too acute an observer not to profit by the remarkable poetry of Mangan, and the similarity of their styles is too evident to need more than a passing notice.. The same features of expression, strength, aptness of application, quaintness of metre, and bound of rhythm, are prominent in both. Mangan is equal to Poe as an artist, but his art or mechanism is not so perceivable from the whole-heartedness, the flow of soul which forms the staple of his poetry. The difference is this: Poe could make a quaint piece of poetry — Mangan was a quaint poem himself. Poe found refuge in melancholy and metaphysics — Mangan was a melancholy soul. Mangan was a fact — Poe made things look as like fact as can be. This comparison only stands good as to poetry. As a prose writer Poe is of a very superior class, powerful and exact; and albeit, there are a few of his poems which will live with his land and language, it is as a prose writer he will go down to posterity with the full tide of reputation.

Of Poe’s prose poem “Eureka,” we can say but little here, as it would take up much space were we to canvass its opinions, which, after all, perhaps it does not deserve. Mr. M. A. Daly, writing of Poe, in a weekly literary paper, says, “Poe was much given to philosophical studies, more particularly towards the close of his life. His writings in this branch do not, however, do him much credit. They are invariably replete with all the errors of the German schools, and the last work he ever published, ‘Eureka,’ is but a weak apology for that curse of all modern literature — pantheism.” From the same gentleman, who was acquainted with the deceased author, we learn that Poe had a work in MS. which he entitled “Phases of American Literature,” and from which he read for our friend at Fordham. We trust it may be added to his published works; as any ebullition of a genius so strange and so strong, much less one on the subject we have named, must be of remarkable interest to his admirers and readers of American literature generally. We had hoped to have presented our readers with a resume of the most remarkable of Poe’s tales, with a view of showing the capacity of his genius, and acuteness of his analytical power, but the length to which our article extends already, precludes the idea of giving aught but a general word on those points. Perhaps it is as well, for his tales have been so widely read and enthusiastically appreciated, that it might seem unnecessary to more than refer to them.

Poe had a strange and unearthly delight for the horrible and revolting, as well as the nicest appreciation for the beautiful. The latter he very evidently used in subservience to the former; and that he worked up with such power and circumstantiality, that all the horrors of Monk Lewis, Anne Radcliffe, and Henry Fuseli, grow childish before his. Nothing can be more disgustingly horrible, or recited better, than the “Black Cat.” Than the “Pit and the Pendulum,” we have never read anything producing a more breathless anxiety. The growth of evil in the former, and the power of mind in calamity in the latter, are miraculously conducted, every thought and turn of thought being accounted for with a precision of the most seam ching character, and powerful adaptation of words. One of his most distinguishing faculties is his admirable nomenclature of what he wants to describe, be they, the metaphysical readings [page 172:] of the mind — the changes of the countenance, as indices of the passions, or objects of view. In all his descriptions, one could not probably take out a single word and insert another which would suit better, or be of more value to the purpose, than what he has adopted. His power of; and over language was consequently very great, when we take into consideration the peculiarly horrible and harrowing scenes and acts he describes — the remarkably, minute lengths he goes into — the most seemingly unremarkable minutitae — the fine drawn sentences and convincing hair-splitting he deals in, which take you along as the silken guide-string of a labyrinth into its very centre, resting occasionally to take breath, as you meet some unearthly spectacle or being, put there like the fiery dragons at the gate of the enchanted castle, to terrify and prevent you from proceeding. You burn to go on. Even though your nature sickens, you will be a bravo. You could no more leave unfinished one of his tales, than you could stay a comet. He has a fiendish faculty of seducing your will. His acquaintance seems to have changed your nature, and created in it a love for the terrific. You share his madness or his rage; his misery or guilt. You know he is horrible and unearthly, and devilish, but you also feel that he is inhumanly powerful and magically seductive. When we take into account these minute descriptions, and the power they hold over the reader, and see the pains he has taken to render every, even the smallest thing plain, we wonder less at the appreciation of the reader, and the ready reputation his tales meet with. The power of language vies with the conception of the plot, and oiily yields to it in its service of carrying it out in its most fiendish or loveable extent.

A word or two of Poe, and we are done. He is in the grave. Let him lie so. His works are here, let people judge them. Let us judge his works, — what he has presented us with, and feel towards him as we are pleased or pained with them. It would have been almost miraculous if a man, reared as he was, had been less unfortunate. We shall not dwell on it, — but would wish our readers not to rattle his bones, but read his books. His earthly life is dead. his labors alone are alive, he can never harm us. They may or they may not. To them let us see until a little time shall have passed away, and the community can look at him, minus the undercurrent of sneers which is drifting through society at him now. There is no writer or public man but has his enemies. Poe had more than his share, but, perhaps not more than he deserved. He could not please every body. He did not strive to please any body. But there were many whom he did strive to displease, and he succeeded in that as in every thing else. Some say he displeased, (that is a gentle word,) those persons rightfully — others, wrongfully. That the latter was sometimes the case, our better judgement must give in. But now that he is gone to that somewhere which even his supernatural imagination and “supernatural eloquence” could not picture, let him be gone with peace; that is, the part of him that is gone; and it is the minor part. Let us deal with that of him which is alive, his books, with candor; or, if we think of him, let us be generous, and end with a verse of our own  

“Tho’ all spleen’s arrows straight he hurl’d

At mankind’s breast to you

I cry — in common with the world —

Priez pour le malheureux.




As is true for so many items of the period, many of the biographical details about Poe are unreliable.



[S:0 - USDR, 1851] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (J. Savage, 1850)