Text: Henry Clay Preuss, “Edgar A. Poe,” National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), vol. LIV, whole no. 7,867, May 19, 1853, p. 2, col. 2


[page 2, column 2:]


By Henry Clay Preuss.




Seldom has a poor mortal been more abused or less understood than the subject of the following verses. With a mind tuned to the highest harmonies, and gifted with most surprising powers of analysis, nothing escaped the terrible anatomy of his critiques. In reading some of leis reviews one feels the sensation of cold steel searching through, the warm flesh. The crude field of our young National Literature, with its- rank “tares of haste” and flowers of more than tropical luxuriance, afforded ample exercise for the pruning-knife of the critic; and who was better fitted for the task than POE? A diamond of the first water, with him mediocrity was almost a crime. His onslaught upon the “literary lights” of the day was commenced and carried on without favor, love, Or mercy. Authors, poets, novelists, tale-writers, amateur contributors to magazines, many of whom had obtained their diplomas from public opinion, and were reposing quietly on their laurels perfectly assured of their fee-simple right to immortal fame, were suddenly aroused, as from a dream, at beholding all the labored and gorgeous net-work of their fancy dissolved, as if by magic, into “thin and unsubstantial air.” “Old fogies” of the classic school; modern propagandists, worshipping at the shrines of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and other “latter-day saints;” the Carlyles, Emersons, and Parkers, with their strong scent of Dutch pipes, German beer, and transcendentalism; Young America, with its literary blood, thunder, and fillibusterisin — all felt more or less the depleting effects of his critical cathartics. The fame of many, which had gone up like the sky-rocket, by the disenchantment of his pen came down like the stick.

But the reformer’s mission- is an ungrateful one, even in the best cause. The healthy tone imparted to our national literature by POE’s searching criticisms plead but a poor apology with those who felt their scorching effects. He had no mercy on a certain class of writers in his life; and they, in their turn, had no mercy on him after his death. Scarcely were his ashes cold in the ground when the whole pack was let loose, “Tray, Blanch, Sweetheart, and all.”

Among other things it was charged that his nature was a “moral vacuum;” that he had the most obscure conceptions, if any, of moral rectitude, the holiness of virtue, the sanctity of the affections, even the common proprieties of life, &c. And yet it is well known by those familiar with him in his more’ intimate relations that he was a most loving husband, a devoted son, (to a mother-in-law who had not the strong ties of blood to attach him,) and that his heart was alive to the most genial impulses of our nature. It is well known, also, that such was the peculiarity of his organization that the smallest quantity of intoxicating drink produced, as has been termed, a kind of moral insanity in his mind, and indeed distorted his whole nature.

It was remarked by the lovely and lamented FANNY OSGOOD — that sweetest embodiment of the poetic ideal in woman’s nature — that “none but a woman could judge of EDGAR A. POE.” Ah, true! none but a woman, with her refined and holy sympathies, could catch, with artistic skill, the delicate shades, the ever-varying lights, the “lines within lines” of such an exquisitely-wrought piece of God’s workmanship.

There is a class of minds so isolated from their kind — so far removed beyond the sphere of our own thoughts, feeling, and existence — that it would be cruel injustice to submit them to the Protean standard of our common humanity. Poor Ishmaelites in the desert of this life, the very loneliness of their fate should dispose us to suspend our final judgment, and leave them to the Great Master who said “judge not lest ye shall be judged.”

England has her magnificent palace of the dead, in which are enshrined the mortal remains of those mighty intellects who have shed a glory as of Heaven on her name. Shall not, then, our own gifted son of genius — the poor minstrel who sorrowed through the gloom of mortality while his teeming brain poured forth its rich flood of ideal splendor on the world — shall not his memory at least find an honored resting-plane in the hearts of the good and noble and charitable of our land?

Thine was a mind of most unearthly cast,

Which held no kindred with its fellow-kind;

But, soaring on the pinions of the blast,

It towered ‘mid the clouds, while far behind

Earth’s humbler millions, wond’ring, shrunk aghast

From sights which strike the weaker vision blind,

While thou, like eagle soaring to the sun,

Hadst deemed thy giant race but scarce begun!


And hadst thou still maintained such dizzy height,

And dreamt thy dreamings out amid the skies,

Thou mightst have shone a bright unfading light;

But, like the setting sun, thou didst but rise

To lose thy peerless splendor in the night,

Which set its seal of darkness on thine eyes,

And, blind and tott’ring in its moral gloom,

Thy traitor-genius shaped its master’s tomb.


Life is a cup, its surface sweet to taste;

And he who would enjoy must learn to sip,

For, quaffing it with much-too-eager haste,

Its dregs soon turn to ashes on his lip,

And leave his soul a bleached and ruined waste,

With all the visions of his fancy nipp’d

E’en in their bud. And thus it was with thee,

O, POE! poor fallen child of Poesy!


With bold and fearful power thou didst tear

The mystic veil from all life’s hidden things,

And then thy rebel soul was doomed to bear,

The penalty which too much knowledge brings :

Life’s brighter lights to thee grew dark and drear —

The mortal drooped though perched on angels’ wings!

And now, with all the gifts of genius blest,

Thou didst but ask of Death the boon of rest!


A child of frailty, as an heir of fame,

Men judged thee only in thy darker mood —

Stamped their cold unfeeling verdict on thy name,

Nor paused to sift the evil from the good.

Yet were there moments when the liquid flame

Had ceased with mad’ning heat to fire thy blood,

Oh! then thy better nature proved its worth

And wore a hue of Heaven more than earth.


Ah! little reek we of the fearful throes

Which scorched and agonized thy struggling soul

When moved by war between those deadliest foes,

The demon Vice and godlike Self-control!

How oft thy crushed, defeated spirit rose

To dare the fight again — this is not told;

We only know, now thou art ‘neath the sod,

The brute at last has triumphed o’er the GOD!


Sleep, minstrel, sleep! Oh, life e’en at the best

Was but as some dark fev’rish dream to thee;

’Tis not for us to mar thy “long last rest”

With cold upbraidings on thy memory.

As sunset glories in the fading west

Proclaim the day-god’s fallen majesty,

So genius shines about the gifted dead

To tell mankind how great a soul has fled!





Henry Clay Preuss was born in Washington, DC about 1826. He served as a clerk in the war department, but was considered a southern sympathizer in 1861 and threatened with being dismissed. He was ultimately able to exonerate himself and retained his position until the mid 1870s. His last known publications were Songs of National Harmony, Peace and Brotherhood, Baltimore: Isaac Friedenwald, 1882 and a broadside poem about President Grover Cleveland, 1888, published in Arlington, MD by the author. He is listed as a lamplighter in Wood’s Baltimore City Directory of 1884 as Henry C. Preuss.

The Poe Society is grateful to Ton Fafianie for tracking down an account of Preuss’s death, from the Deutsche Correspondent of January 25, 1892 (vol. 52, no. 21), a German-language newspaper printed in Baltimore, MD (which had a large German population at the time) from 1840 to 1918. Mr. Fafianie provides the following translation:

A case of suicide. — On the morning of the day before yesterday, 65 year old lamplighter Henry Clay Preuss committed suicide. Preuss, a caretaker, committed his deed in the vacant “Three Mile House” belonging to Mr. John Maguire, on the Reisterstown Road, where he lived as a caretaker. He had slit his right neck artery with an old rusty razorblade and bled to death. He was a lonely man, keeping much to himself, and at other occasions had threatened to kill himself, a reason why the police and the guards of the house properties kept an eye on him. Because he didn’t show up on Saturday morning, Mr. Maguire opened the door to his room and found him kneeling in front of his bed, with the head resting on the bedside. An old oilskin was carefully spread beneath the body in order not to let the blood stain the floor. In his hand he was still clutching the old razor with the broken handle. In the dirty, shabby room two notes were conspicuously placed. One of them carried the following words, “This trunk is for my cousin Talmage A. Lambert, 410 5th st., Washington,” with the name of the old man subjoined. The other note was also signed, “This watch, suitcase and all personal effects belong to my good landlord John Maguire, except the trunk.” The watch is an old-fashioned silver piece with a long chain. In the trunk were found several quality garments which his cousin, an attorney from Washington, had sent over last week together with a promissory note. There were some coins and a $10 note. In another suitcase were found several neatly written manuscripts, signed “Woodbury,” which for a part concerned the last presidential campaign, another containing a biography and some songs, testifying to a certain literary talent of the deceased who used to hold office at the Treasury in the capital and who was a descendent of an ancient American family. Coroner Baldwin deemed it unnecessary to hold an inquest, and accordingly the body was taken to the morgue in the patrol wagon of the western district, from whence the interment will take place at the telegraphic decision made by Mr. Lambert.

Maguire’s “Three Mile House” was a large wood-framed building that stood on Reisterstown Road approximately three miles beyond the line that divided Baltimore City from Baltimore County, the city and county having formally separated in 1855. Reisterstown Road was originally a turnpike, chartered on January 12, 1805, and running from Baltimore, through Reisterstown, Westminster, Taneytown and continuing into western Pennsylvania. (It eventually became split at Reisterstown into the Wesminster and Hanover Turnpikes, now respectively routes 140 and 30.) Along the road, there were a number of “houses,” or taverns, designated by their distance and appointed to provide for the needs of travellers and to collect fees for use of the turnpike. Maguire’s building had greatly fallen into disrepair and was torn down about 1901, originally with the intention of erecting a Baltimore Municipal Hospital on the site. Various complications, presumably including local neighbors objecting to the undesirable nature of having nearby a hospital for patients suffering from infectious diseases, caused the plan and location to be modified multiple times.

For a discussion of this article, see J. Gerald Kennedy, “Elegy for ‘A Rebel Soul’: Henry Clay Preuss and the Poe Debate,” in Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1990, pp. 226-234.


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