Text: George Gilfillan [as Apollodorus], “Authors and Books: Edgar Poe,” Critic, London Literary Journal (London, UK), March 1, 1854, vol. XIII, no. 310, pp. 119-121.


[page 119, column 2, continued:]




WE have sometimes amused ourselves by conjecturing, had the history of human genius run differently — had all men of that class been as wise and prudent and good as too many of them have been improvident, foolish, and depraved — had we had a virtuous Burns, a pure Byron, a Goldsmith with common-sense, a Coleridge with self-control, and a Poe with sobriety — what a different world it had been; what each of these surpassing spirits might have done to advance, refine, and purify society; what a host of “minor prophets” had been found among the array of the poets of our own country! For more than the influence of kings, or rulers, or statesmen, or clergymen — though it were multiplied tenfold — is that of the “Makers” whose winged words pass through all lands, tingle in all ears, touch all hearts, and in all circumstances are remembered and come humming around us — in the hours of labour, in the intervals of business, in trouble, and sorrow, and sickness, and on the bed of death itself; who enjoy, in fact, a kind of omnipresence — whose thoughts have over us the threefold grasp of beauty, language, and music — and to whom at all times “all power is given” in the “dreadful trance” of their genius, to move our beings to their foundations, and to make us better or worse, lower or higher men, according to their pleasure. Yet true it is, and pitiful as true, that these “makers” — themselves made of the finest clay — have often been “marred,” and that the history of poets is one of the saddest and most humbling in the records of the world — sad and humbling especially because the poet is ever seen side-by-side with his own ideal, that graven image of himself he has set up with his own hands, and his failure or fall are judged accordingly. There is considerable truth in the remark made by poor Cowper. He says in his correspondence: “I have lately finished eight volumes of Johnson's Lives of the Poets; in all that number I observe but one man whose mind seems to have had the slightest tincture of religion, and he was hardly in his senses. His name was Collins. But from the lives of all the rest there is but one inference to be drawn: that poets are a very worthless, wicked set of people.” This is certainly too harsh, since these lives include the names of Addison, Watts, Young, and Milton; but it contains a portion of truth. Poets, as a tribe, have been rather a worthless, wicked set of people; and certainly Edgar Poe, instead of being an exception, was probably the most wicked of all his fraternity.

And yet we must say, in justice, that the very greatest poets have been good as well as great. Shakspere — judging him by his class and age — was undoubtedly, to say the least, a respectable member of society, as well as a warm-hearted and generous man. Dante and Milton we need only name. And these are “the first three” in the poetic army. Wordsworth, Young, Cowper, Southey, Bowles, Crabbe, Pollock, [column 3:] are inferior but still great names, and they were all, in different measures, good men. And of late years, indeed, the instances of depraved genius have become rarer and rarer: so much so that we are disposed to trace a portion of Poe's renown to the fact that he stood forth an exception so gross, glaring, and defiant, to what was fast becoming a general rule.

In character he was certainly one of the strangest anomalies in the history of mankind. Many men as dissipated as he have had warm hearts, honourable feelings, and have been loved and pitied by all. Many, in every other respect worthless, have had some one or two redeeming points; and the combination of “one virtue and a thousand crimes” has not been uncommon. Others have the excuse of partial derangement for errors otherwise monstrous and unpardonable. But none of these pleas can be made for Poe. He was no more a gentleman than he was a saint. His heart was as rotten as his conduct was infamous. He knew not what the terms honour and honourable meant. He had absolutely no virtue or good quality, unless you call remorse a virtue and despair a grace. Some have called him mad; but we confess we see no evidence of this in his history. He showed himself, in many instances, a cool, calculating, deliberate blackguard. He was never mad, except when in delirium tremens. His intellect at all other times was of the clearest, sharpest, and most decisive kind. A large heart has often beat in the bosom of a debauchee; but Poe had not one spark of genuine tenderness, unless it were for his wife, whose heart, nevertheless, and constitution, he broke — hurrying her to a premature grave, that he might write Annabel Lee and The Raven! His conduct to his patron, and to the lady mentioned in his memoirs, whom he threatened to cover with infamy if she did not lend him money, was purely diabolical. He was, in short, a combination, in almost equal proportions, of the fiend, the brute, and the genius. One might call him one of the Gadarene swine, filled with the devil, and hurrying down a steep place to perish in the waves; but none could deny that — to use an expression applied first to a celebrated female author of the day — he was a “swine of genius.”

He has been compared to Swift, to Burns, to Sheridan, to De Quincey, and to Hazlitt; but in none of these cases does the comparison fully hold. Swift had probably as black crimes on his conscience as Poe; but Swift could feel and could create in others the emotion of warmest friendship, and his outward conduct was irreproachable — it was otherwise with the Yankee Yahoo. Burns had many errors, poor fellow! but they were “all of the flesh, none of the spirit:” he was originally one of the noblest of natures; and during all his career nothing mean or dishonourable or black-hearted was ever charged against him; he was an erring man — but still a man. Sheridan was a sad scamp, but he had a kind of bonhommie about him which carried off in part your feeling of disgust; and although false to his party, he was in general true to his friends. De Quincey is of an order so entirely different from Poe that we must apologize for introducing their names into the same sentence — the one being a very amiable, and the other having been the most hardened and heartless of men; the only point of comparison in fact between them being their poverty. Hazlitt's faults were deep and dark; but he was what Poe was not — an intensely honest and upright man; and he paid the penalty thereof in unheard-of abuse and proscription. In order to parallel Poe we must go back to Savage, and Dermody. If our readers will turn to the first or second volumes of the Edinburgh Review, they will find an account of the last-mentioned, which will remind them very much of Poe's dark and discreditable history. Dermody, like Poe, was an habitual drunkard, licentious, false, treacherous, and capable of everything that was mean, base, and malignant; but unlike Poe, his genius was not far above mediocrity. Hartley Coleridge, too, may recur to some as a case in point; but, although he was often, according to a statement we heard once from Christopher North, “dead drunk at ten o’clock in the morning,” he was, both out of and in his cups, a harmless being, and a thorough gentleman — amiable, and, as the phrase goes, “no body's enemy but his own.”

How are we to account for this sad and miserable story? That Poe's circumstances were precarious from the first — that he was left an orphan — that without his natural protector he became early exposed to temptation — that his life was [page 120:] wandering and unsettled; — all this does not explain the utter and reckless abandonment of his conduct, far less his systematic want of truth, and the dark sinistrous malice which rankled in his bosom. Habitual drunkenness does indeed tend to harden the heart; but if Poe had possessed any heart originally, it might, as well as in the case of other dissipated men of genius, have resisted, and only in part yielded to the induration; and why did he permit himself to become the abject slave of the vice? The poet very properly puts “lust hard by hate” (and hence, perhaps, the proverbial fierceness of the bull), and Poe was as licentious as he was intemperate; but the question recurs, why? We are driven to one of two suppositions: either that his moral nature was more than usually depraved ab origine — that, as some have maintained, “conscience was omitted” in his constitution; or that, by the unrestrained indulgence of his passions, he, as John Bunyan has it, “tempted the devil,” and became the bound victim of infernal influence. In this age of scepticism such a theory is sure to be laughed at, but is not the less likely to be true. If ever man in modern times resembled at least a demoniac, “exceeding fierce, and dwelling among tombs” — possessed now by a spirit of fury, and now by a spirit of falsehood, and now by an “unclean spirit” — it was Poe, as he rushed with his eyes open into every excess of riot; or entered the house of his intended bride on the night before the anticipated marriage, and committed such outrages as to necessitate a summons of the police to remove the drunk and raving demon; or ran howling through the midnight like an evil spirit on his way to the Red Sea, battered by the rains, beaten by the winds, waving aloft his arms in frenzy, cursing loud and deep Man — Himself — God — and proclaiming that he was already damned, and damned for ever. In demoniac possession too, of a different kind, it was that he fancied the entire secret of the making of the universe to be revealed to him, and went about everywhere shouting “Eureka” — a title, too, which he gave to the strange and splendid lecture in which he recorded the memorable illusion. And when the spirit of talk came at times mightily upon him — when the “witch element” seemed to surround him — when his brow flushed like an evening cloud — when his eyes glared wild lightning — when his hair stood up like the locks of a Bacchante — when his chest heaved, and his voice rolled and swelled like subterranean thunder — men, admiring, fearing, and wondering, said, “He hath a demon, yea, seven devils are entered into him.” His tongue was then “set on fire,” but set on fire of hell; and its terrific inspiration rayed out of every gesture and look, and spake in every tone.

“Madness!” it will be cried again; but that word does not fully express the nature of Poe's excitement in these fearful hours. There was no incoherence either in his matter or in his words. There was, amid all the eloquence and poetry of his talk, a vein of piercing, searching, logical, but sinister thought. All his faculties were shown in the same lurid light, and touched by the same torch of the furies. All blazed emulous of each other's fire. The awful soul which had entered his soul formed an exact counterpart to it, and the haggard “dream was one.” One is reminded of the words of Aird, in his immortal poem The Demoniac:

Perhaps by hopeless passions bound

And render'd weak, the mastery a demon o'er him found:

Reason and duty all, all life, his being all became

Subservient to the wild, strange law that overbears his frame;

And in the dead hours of the night, when happier children lie

In slumbers seal'd, he journeys far the flowing waters by.

And oft he haunts the sepulchres, where the thin shoals of ghosts

Flit shiv'ring from death's chilling dews; to their unbodied hosts

That charm through night their feeble plaint, he yells; at the red morn

Meets the great armies of the winds, high o'er the mountains borne,

Leaping against the viewless rage, tossing his arms on high,

And hanging balanced o'er sheer steeps against the morning sky.

We are tempted to add the following lines; partly for their Dantesque power, and partly because they describe still more energetically than the last quotation such a tremendous possession as was Herman's in fiction and Poe's in reality: —

He rose; a smother'd gleam

Was on his brow; with fierce motes roll'd his eye's distempered beam;

He smiled, 'twas as the lightning of a hope about to die

For ever from the furrow'd brows of Hell's eternity; [column 2:]

Like sun-warmed snakes, rose on his head a storm of golden hair,

Tangled; and thus on Miriam fell hot breathings of despair:

“Perish the breasts that gave me milk! yea, in thy mould’ring heart,

Good thrifty roots I’ll plant, to stay next time my hunger's smart.

Red vein’d derived apples I shall eat with savage haste,

And see thy life-blood blushing through, and glory in the taste.”

Herman, in the poem, has a demon sent into his heart, in divine sovereignty, and that he may be cured by the power of Christ. But Poe had Satan substituted for soul, apparently to torment him before the time; and we do not see him ere the end, sitting, “clothed, and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus.” He died, as he had lived, a raving, cursing, self-condemned, conscious cross between the fiend and the genius, believing nothing, hoping nothing, loving nothing, fearing nothing — himself his own God and his own devil — a solitary wretch, who had cut off every bridge that connected him with the earth around and the heavens above. This, however, let us say in his favour — he has died “alone in his iniquity;” he has never, save by his example (so far as we know his works), sought to shake faith, or sap morality. His writings may be morbid, but they are pure; and, if his life was bad, has he not left it as a legacy to moral anatomists, who have met and wondered over it, although they have given up all attempt at dissection or diagnosis, shaking the head, and leaving it alone in its shroud, with the solemn whispered warning to the world, and especially to its stronger and brighter spirits, “Beware.”

A case so strange as Poe's compels us into new and more searching forms of critical, as well as of moral analysis. Genius has very generally been ascribed to him; but some will resist and deny the ascription — proceeding partly upon peculiar notions of what genius is, and partly from a very natural reluctance to concede to a wretch so vile a gift so noble, and in a degree, too, so unusually large. Genius has often been defined as something inseparably connected with the genial nature. If this definition be correct, Poe was not a genius any more than Swift, for geniality neither he nor his writings possessed. But if genius mean a compound of imagination and inventiveness, original thought, heated by passion, and accompanied by power of fancy, Poe was a man of great genius. In wanting geniality, however, he wanted all that makes genius lovely and beloved, at once beautiful and dear. A man of genius, without geniality, is a mountain, clad in snow, companioned by tempests, and visited only by hardy explorers who love sublime nakedness, and to snatch a fearful joy from gazing down black precipices; a man whose genius is steeped in the genial nature of an Autumn landscape, suggesting not only images of beauty, and giving thrills of delight, but yielding peaceful and plenteous fruits, and in which the heart finds a rest and a home. From the one the timid, the weak, and the gentle retire in a terror which overpowers their admiration; but in the other the lowliest and feeblest find shelter and repose. Even Dante and Milton, owing to the excess of their intellectual and imaginative powers over their genial feelings, are less loved than admired, while the vast supremacy of Shakspere is due not merely to his universal genius, but to the predominance of geniality and heart in all his writings. You can envy and even hate Dante and Milton — and had Shakspere only written his loftier tragedies, you might have hated and envied him too; but who can entertain any such feelings for the author of the Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, the creator of Falstaff, Dogberry and Verres? If Genius be the sun, geniality is the atmosphere through which alone his beams can penetrate with power or be seen with pleasure.

Poe is distinguished by many styles and many manners. He is the author of fictions, as matter-of-fact in their construction and language as the stories of Defoe, and of tales as weird and wonderful as those of Hoffman — of amatory strains trembling, if not with the heart, with passion, and suff used with the purple glow of love — and of poems, dirges either in form or in spirit, into which the genius of desolation has shed its dreariest essence — of verses, gay with apparent, but shallow joy, and of others dark with a misery which reminds us of the helpless, hopeless, infinite misery which sometimes visits the soul in dreams. But, amid all this diversity of tone and of subject, the leading qualities of his mind are obvious. These consist of strong imagination — an imagination, however, more fertile in incidents, forms, and characters, than in images; [column 3:] keen power of analysis, rather than synthetic genius; immense inventiveness; hot passions, cooled down by the presence of art, till they resemble sculptured flame, or “lightning in the hand of a painted Jupiter;” knowledge rather récherché and varied than strict, accurate, or profound; and an unlimited command of words, phrases, musical combinations of sound, and all other materials of an intellectual workman. The direction of these powers was controlled principally by his habits and circumstances. These made him morbid; and his writings have all a certain morbidity about them. You say at once, cool and clear as most of them are, these are not the productions of a healthy or happy man. But surely never was there such a calm despair — such a fiery torment so cased in ice! When you compare the writings with the known facts of the author's history, they appear to be so like, and so unlike, his character. You seem looking at an inverted image. You have the features, but they are discovered at an unexpected angle. You see traces of the misery of a confirmed debauchee, but none of his disconnected ravings, or of the partial imbecility which often falls upon his powers. There is a strict, almost logical, method in his wildest productions. He tells us himself that he wrote The Raven as coolly as if he had been working out a mathematical problem. His frenzy is a conscious one — he feels his own pulse when it is at its wildest, and looks at his foaming lips in the looking-glass. You are reminded of the figure of Mephistopheles in Retzsch's illustrations of Faust, sitting on the infernal steed, which is moving at the pace of the whirlwind, with the calm of perfect indifference.

Poe was led by a singular attraction to all dark, dreadful, and disgusting objects and thoughts — mahlstroms [[maelstroms]], mysteries, murders, mummies, premature burials, excursions to the moon, solitary mansions, surrounded by mist and weighed down by mysterious dooms, lonely tarns, trembling to the winds of autumn and begirt by the shivering ghosts of woods. These are the materials which his wild imagination loves to work with, and out of them to weave the most fantastic and dismal of worlds. Yet there's “magic in the web.” You often revolt at his subjects; but no sooner does he enter on them, than your attention is riveted, you lend him your ears — nay, that is a feeble word, you surrender your whole being to him for a season, although it be as you succumb, body and soul, to the dominion of a nightmare. What greatly increases the effect, as in Gulliver's Travels, is the circumstantiality with which he recounts the most amazing and incredible things. His tales, too, are generally cast into the autobiographical form, which adds much to their living vraisemblance and vivid power. It is Coleridge's “Old Mariner” over again. Strange, wild, terrible, is the tale he has to tell; haggard, woebegone, unearthly, is the appearance of the narrator. Every one at first, like the wedding guest, is disposed to shrink and beat his breast; but he holds you with his glittering eye, he forces you to follow him into his own enchanted region, — and once there, you forget everything, your home, your friends, your creed, your very personal identity, and become swallowed up like a straw in the mahlstrom [[maelstrom]] of his story, and forget to breathe till it is ended, and the mysterious tale-teller is gone. And during all the wild and whirling narrative, the same chilly glitter has continued to shine in his eye, his blood has never warmed, and he has never exalted his voice above a thrilling whisper.

Poe's power may perhaps be said to be divisible into two parts — first, that of adding an air of circumstantial verity to incredibilities; and secondly, that of throwing a weird lustre upon commonplace events. He tells fiction so minutely and with such apparent simplicity and sincerity, that you almost believe it true; and he so combines and so recounts such incidents as you meet with every day in the newspapers that you feel truth to be far stranger than fiction. Look, as a specimen of the first, to his Descent into the Mahlstrom [[Maelstrom]], and to his Hans Pfaal's Journey to the Moon. Both are impossible; the former as much so as the latter; but he tells them with such Dante-like directness, and such Defoe-like minuteness, holding his watch and marking, as it were, every second in the progress of each stupendous lie — that you rub your eyes at the close, and ask the question, Might not all this actually have occurred? And then turn to the Murders in the Rue St. Morgue [[Rue Morgue]], or to the Mystery of Marie Roget, and see how, by the disposition of the drapery he throws over little [page 121:] or ordinary incidents, connected indeed with an extraordinary catastrophe, he lends

The light which never was on sea or shore

to streets of revelry and vulgar sin, and to streams whose sluggish waters are never disturbed save by the plash of murdered victims, or by the plunge of suicides desperately hurling their bodies to the fishes, and their souls to the flames of Hell.

In one point, Poe bears a striking resemblance to his own illustrious countryman, Brockden Brown — neither resort to agency absolutely supernatural, in order to produce their terrific effects. They despise to start a ghost from the grave — they look upon this as a cheap and fade expedient — they appeal to the “mightier might” of the human passions, or to those strange unresolved phenomena in the human mind, which the terms mesmerism and somnambulism serve rather to disguise than to discover, and sweat out from their native soil superstitions far more powerful than those of the past. Once only does Poe approach the brink of the purely preternatural — it is in that dreary tale, the “Fall of the House of Usher;” and yet nothing so discovers the mastery of the writer as the manner in which he avoids, while nearing the gulf. There is really nothing after all in the strange incidents of that story, but what natural principles can explain. But Poe so arranges and adjusts the singular circumstances to each other, and weaves around them such an artful mist, that they produce a most unearthly effect. He separates the feeling of supernatural fear from the consciousness of supernatural agency, and gives you it entire, “lifting the skin from the scalp to the ancles.” Perhaps some may think that he has fairly crossed the line in that dialogue between Charmian and Iras, describing the conflagration of the world. But, even there, how admirably does he produce a certain feeling of probability by the management of the natural causes which he brings in to produce the catastrophe. He burns his old witch-mother the earth, scientifically! We must add that the above is the only respect in which Poe resembles Brown. Brown was a virtuous and amiable man, and his works, although darkened by unsettled religious views, breathe a fine spirit of humanity. Poe wonders at, and hates man — Brown wonders at, but at the same time pities, loves, and hopes in him. Brown mingled among men like a bewildered angel — Poe like a prying fiend.

We have already alluded to the singular power of analysis possessed by this strange being. This is chiefly conspicuous in those tales of his which turn upon circumstantial evidence. No lawyer or judge has ever equalled Poe in the power he manifests of sifting evidence — of balancing probabilities — of finding the multum of a large legal case in the parvum of some minute and well-nigh invisible point — and in constructing the real story out of a hundred dubious and conflicting incidents. What scales he carries with him! how fine and tremulous with essential justice! And with what a microscopic eye he watches every foot-print! Letters thrown loose on the mantel-piece, bell-ropes, branches of trees, handkerchiefs, &c. become to him instinct with meaning, and point with silent finger to crime and to punishment. And to think of this subtle algebraic power, combined with such a strong ideality, and with such an utterly corrupted moral nature! It is as though Chatterton had become a Bow-street officer. Surely none of the hybrids which geology has dug out of the graves of Chaos, and exhibited to our shuddering view, is half so strange a compound as was Edgar Poe. We have hitherto scarcely glanced at his poetry. It, although lying in a very short compass, is of various merit: it is an abridgement of the man in his strength and weakness. Its chief distinction, as a whole, from his prose, is its peculiar music. That, like all his powers, is fitful, changeful, varying; but not more so than to show the ever-varying moods of his mind, acting on a peculiar and indefinite theory of sound. The alpha and omega of that theory may be condensed in the word “reiteration.” He knows the effect which can be produced by ringing changes on particular words. The strength of all his strains consequently lies in their chorus, or “oure turn,” as we call it in Scotland. We do not think that he could have succeeded in sustaining the harmonies or keeping up the interest of a large poem. But his short flights are exceedingly beautiful, and some of his poems are miracles of melody. All our readers are familiar with the Raven; it is a dark [column 2:] world in itself; it rises in your sky suddenly as a cloud, like a man's hand in the heaven of Palestine, and covers all the horizon with the blackness of darkness. As usual in his writings, it is but a common event idealised; there is nothing supernatural or even extraordinary in the incident recounted; but the reiteration of the one dreary word “nevermore;” the effect produced by seating the solemn bird of yore upon the bust of Pallas; the manner in which the fowl with its fiery eyes becomes the evil conscience or memory of the lonely widower; and the management of the time, the season, and the circumstances — all unite in making the Raven in its flesh and blood a far more terrific apparition than ever from the shades made night hideous, while “revisiting the glimpses of the moon.” The poem belongs to a singular class of poetic uniques, each of which is itself enough to make a reputation, such as Coleridge's Rime of the Anciente Marinere [[Ancient Marriner]] or Christabel, and Aird's Devil's Dream upon Mount Acksbeck — poems in which some one new and generally dark idea is wrought out into a whole so strikingly complete and self-contained as to resemble creation, and in which thought, imagery, language, and music combine to produce a similar effect, and are made to chime together like bells. What entirety of effect, for instance, is produced in the Devil's Dream by the unearthly theme, the strange title, the austere and terrible figures, the large rugged volume of verse, and the knotty and contorted language; and in the Rime of the Anciente Marinere [[Ancient Marriner]] by the ghastly form of the narrator — the wild rhythm, the new mythology, and the exotic diction of the tale he tells! So Poe's Raven has the unity of a tree blasted, trunk, and twigs, and root, by a flash of lightning. Never did melancholy more thoroughly “mark for its own” any poem than this. All is in intense keeping. Short as the poem is, it has a beginning, middle, and end. Its commencement how abrupt and striking — the time a December midnight — the poet a solitary man, sitting “weak and weary,” poring in helpless fixity, but with no profit or pleasure, over a black-letter volume; the fire half expired; and the dying embers haunted by their own ghosts, and shivering upon the hearth! The middle is attained when the raven mounts the bust of Pallas, and is fascinating the solitary wretch by his black glittering plumage, and his measured, melancholy croak. And the end closes as with the wings of night over the sorrow of the unfortunate, and these dark words conclude the tale: —

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor,

Shall be lifted Nevermore.

You feel as if the poem might have been penned by the finger of one of the damned. Its author has fallen below the suicide point; death opens up no hope for him; the quarrel is not with life on earth — it is with being anywhere.

The same shadow of unutterable woe rests upon several of his smaller poems, and the effect is greatly enhanced by their gay and song-like rhythm. That madness or misery which sings out its terror or grief, is always the most desperate. It is like a burden of hell set to an air of heaven. “Ulalume” might have been written by Coleridge during the sad middle portion of his life. There is a sense of dreariness and desolation as of the last of earth's Autumns, which we find no where else in such perfection. What a picture these words convey to the imagination: —

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 down by the dank tarn of Auber

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

These to many will appear only words; but what wondrous words. What a spell they wield, — what a withered unity there is in them! Like a wasted haggard face, they have no bloom or beauty; but what a tale they tell! Weir — Auber — where are they? They exist not, except in the writer's imagination, and in yours; for the instant they are uttered a misty picture, with a tarn, dark as a murderer's eye, below, and the thin, yellow leaves of October fluttering above, — exponents both of a misery which scorns the name of sorrow, and knows neither limit nor termination — is hung up in the chamber of your soul for ever. What power, too, there is in the “Haunted Palace,” particularly in the last words, “They laugh, but smile no more!” Dante has nothing superior in all those chilly yet fervent [column 3:] words of his, where “The ground burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire.”

We must now close our sketch of Poe; and we do so with feelings of wonder, pity, and awful sorrow, tempted to look up to heaven, and to cry, “Lord, why didst thou make this man in vain?” Yet perhaps there was even in him some latent spark of goodness, which may even now be developing itself under a kindlier sky. If man, even at his best estate, be altogether vanity, at his worst he cannot be much more. He has gone far away from the misty mid-region of Weir; his dreams of cosmogonies, &c. have been tested by the searching light of Eternity's truth; his errors have received the reward that was meet; and we cannot but say, ere we close, peace even to the well-nigh putrid dust of Edgar Poe.




George Gilfillan (1813-1878) signed this article with a pseudonym. The article was widely reprinted. In the United States, it is probably most often encountered in Littell's Living Age for April 22, 1854, vol. XLI, pp. 166-171. His authorship is certain as the essay is reprinted in his Third Gallery of Portraits, New York: Kheldon, Lamport and Blakeman, 1855), pp. 325-338. Although it is not mentioned by name, this article is likely inspired by the fairly recent publication of an edition of Poe's poems edited by James Hannay, which is undated but appears to have been printed about the end of 1852.


[S:0 - BCLLM, 1854] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Books and Authors: Edgar Poe (George Gilfilan, 1854)