Text: O. P. R., “Edgar A. Poe,” Waverley Magazine (Boston, MA), vol. IV, no. 17, May 1, 1852, p. 269


[page 269, column 1, continued:]



BY O. P. R.


“He might have soared in the morning light,

But he built his nest with the birds of night!

But he lies in dust, and the stone is rolled

Over the sepulchre dim and cold;

He has cancelled all he has done or said,

And gone to the dear and holy dead.

Let us forget the path he trod,

And leave him now to his Maker, God.”

PERHAPS no class of authors in the world furnish such peculiar instances of adventure, and strange intermixture of passions, as poets. The poetic fire is born in them, and developes itself from their earliest years. In some, the imagination is joined with powerful virtues; while in others, it has an alliance with the bad passions of nature. The mind of the poet is expansive, wandering everywhere, culling sweets from every object, and feeding on the essence of beauty. From pictures of the deepest sorrow they draw their brightest images, and pour forth the noblest of their strains. The imagination of Ossian soars the highest when painting the airy ghosts of the hills, or describing the bloody battles of his native country, language of pathos, after performing the funeral Byron pours forth his sorrows in rites of Shelley. To see him stand over the funeral [column 2:] pile of his friend, and weeping at his misfortunes and premature death, is a perfect picture of poetry itself. Their very lives are poetry, and for their singularity call for our sympathy. We deeply feel for Byron and Goldsmith, in their early freak, when we know are hidden withiiv. their minds the flaming thoughts that afterwards shone out in Manfred and the Vicar of Wakefield.

In the life of Edgar A. Poe there are many strange anomalies of character. He was born in Baltimore, January, 1811. His parents, the greater part of whose lives was past in the theatre, died when he was a small child. He was adopted by Mr. Charles Allen [[John Allan]], a wealthy merchant, and he intended to make him heir of his property. In his youth he was distinguished for precocity of intellect, ready wit, and nervous irritability of his nature. A considerable portion of his boyhood was spent in England, at school; and, from the earnestness with which he relates his adventures, that time must have made an indelible impression on his mind. Shut out from all external society, there was full scope for his imagination to act, and build airy castles of improbability, that so characterized his late writings. After his return from England, entering the University, he led a dissipated life, and was soon expelled for his conduct. But such was the power of his mind, that, amid all his irregularities, he was enabled to sustain his reputation as a scholar.

In his love of romance, he conceived the idea of assisting the Greeks in their struggle for liberty against the Turks. From some fortune or other, he never reached his destination, but soon returned again to his native country. Had he succeeded in visiting Greece, and in aiding that unhappy country to obtain her independence, what strains of poetry might we not have expected from his muse, after visiting those classic scenes, already familiar to him from earlier studies. His gents, perhaps, would have shone with additional lustre from communication with that of England’s greatest poet, who had devoted his life to that service.

After his second return from Europe, he entered the Military Academy at West Point; but the strict discipline of that school ill accorded with his excitable and restless disposition. His stay there was short; and the checkered career of his early life was terminated by being cashiered a short time from his entry.

In his first appearance before the public as a literary man, he obtains two prizes, awarded for the best -poem and the best tale. During the greater part of his after life, he was engaged in writing for the different magazines of this country. He was always so unsteady in his purpose, that he could never be relied on by his employers, or trusted with any considerable amount of business.

The poems of his youth evinces the precocity of his intellect. Then was he able to speak words warm from his heart, before his mind had become blighted by calamity. There is a boyish grace about them, an ethereal sublimity, an ignorance of misfortunes of the world, and they startle us by their unaffected simplicity. He well experienced the truth of his own lines, —

“And boyhood is a summer run,

Whose waning is the dreariest one.”

Poets, to a great degree, are sensitive, and are ill prepared to bear the attacks of a selfish world. Their youthful poems are widely different from those in after life. rho poetry of Keats, Shelley, and Byron, in their earlier years, has an innate purity that is looked for in vain in their subsequent productions. Milton is almost a solitary example of one who, regardless of pain and blindness, and other calamities, preserved spotless his muse. During the time of life when fortune smiled, Poe was a far different man. We see displayed in his writings no hatred and withering contempt of mankind. He then exhibited the purity of his imagination, that afterwards fed on horrors themselves, and shunned all true pictures of life and virtue.

As a poet Mr. Poe obtained, during his short life, an enviable rank. Though the amount of his poetry is small compared with others, yet it is all of the highest order. Every thing was of a faultless symmetry, and with a powerful artistic beauty. His higher intellectual faculties were fully equal to his poetic. From every object in nature ambrosia was gathered that nourished his soul, and contributed to his poetic fire. All his poetry is an example how near the imaginalion can tread the dizziest heights of horror and mystery, without sinking into disgusting pictures.

Everything, in the later writings of Poe, had an intimate connection with himself; and exhibits traces of personal character. His sordid passions were mixed with the ethereal essence of his nature. His imagery came from the realms where the common imagination dares not attempt to soar. His mind was filled with pictures of the ghastliest grandeur. In draperies of his imagination, and in passions that swayed his own soul, all his writings were composed. “The Haunted Palace” is a perfect picture of his own brain, filled with discordant terrors.

“And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows see,

Hast [[Vast]] forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pole door,

A hideous thing rush out forever,

And laugh, but smile no more.

Mr. Poe possessed a strong mathematical mind, which is exhibited in all his works. He had an intuitive power of comprehending the most subtle reasoning, and in brushing away clouds of words, and arriving at the true meaning. In the composition of “Eurica [[Eureka]],” he neglected the common means of induction, but built, by the powers of imagination and peculiar sense of beauty, a structure grand and simple. It is said that the most difficult cyphers and enigmas he easily solved; and it was frequently asserted by him, that no enigma could be constructed which human ingenuity could not unravel.

There seems to be two phases in the character of Poe. In private life, among his friends, he was even noted for his social qualities. When under the excitement of intoxication, he was like a raving maniac. He sometimes walked the streets by night, uttering half suppressed curses, and amid the storm invoking spirits from the unseen world. Dim visions of future suffering continually haunted his mind, and took away his finer feelings. He considered himself as doomed to torment, and “The Raven” is but a true echo of his own history. His conversation was more than mortal in its eloquence. With his powerful imagination he piled thought upon thought, in ghastly grandeur. Something existed in him that can never [column 3:] be fathomed — he was, in fact, an enigma to his most intimate friends. In his criticisms, he continually vented his malignity on his enemies, and rewarded his friends with excessive praise. In his premature death literature lost one of her brightest ornaments, and his productions will ever be read with interest, and treasured up as works of true genius.



O. P. R. has not been identified. The introductory poem about Poe was written by Richard H. Stoddard. The errors of the place and year of Poe’s birth are obviously copied from the memoir of Poe by R. W. Griswold, which also quotes from the Stoddard poem.


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