Text: John P. Lacroix, “Edgar A. Poe,” Sunday Delta (New Orleans, LA), vol. 3, no. 10, January 24, 1858, p. 1, cols. 5-6


[page 1, col. 5, continued:]

[Written for the Sunday Delta.

Edgar A. Poe.




In the career of the author of the Raven, we may study a most singular phase of the human mind. The offspring of a romantic marriage, his body was finely and delicately organized, and his mind poetic and intense in all its healthful action But its action was always of an intellectual, and rarely, or never, of a moral character The god he worshiped was not God, but was the Spirit of Beauty. He viewed an action or a thought in the light of its symmetry or poetry, and not of its ethical propriety. The moods, and aspirations, and activities of ordinary mortals he despised, not because they were useless or improper in their places, but because they were abhorrent to all his tastes and habits. Hence the partial solution of his perpetual antagonism to the world, to society — to everything that was not himself.

But we may doubt whether this opposition to men and things were not simply defensive instead of hostile. Though a want of wealth to the ordinary man is rather a smile than a favor of fortune, yet with so highly organized and sensitive a spirit as his, it is really a great evil. Had he been above the necessity of making literature a trade — a means of subsistence — we know not how different and how much more brilliant his career and fame might be. [column 6:]

But we have to take him as he was — a wild, erratic, unhappy child of genius. His mind was eminently analytic. Of the art of reasoning in the dark labyrinths of probability, with only here and there a circumstance as a flickering lamp to guide his course, he was a consummate master. His talent he has turned to happy account in many cases, but especially in his tales, “The Gold Bug” and “Purloined letter.” In the “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” he has brilliantly employed the talents which distinguish the acute lawyer.

His critical talents are the finest which America has yet produced, and when they are unbiased by personal pique, their decisions have the force of demonstration. When the hammer came down on the head of a charlatan as in the case of J. T. Headley, it covered him with such shame and detestation that none, save the utterly abandoned, ever again ventured before the public.

But it is as a tale-writer and poet that Poe will go down on the waves of time. His creations are so unique, his characters so strange and life-endowed, that they haunt us as the companions of our childhood; yet how unlike these are they! They are not men as we find them, but men as Poe conceived them. His men are, as with Byron, a part of his many-sided self. There is not a reverent, a pious or religious, in the better sense, man or woman in the whole galaxy. They may love with a maddening love, hate with a hellish hatred, or scoff, as alone a fiend can, but they do not sympathize with suffering humanity, they delight not in the thanks of a grateful heart — they never pray. Who can ever forget the dweller of the “Domain of Arnheim,” with his frenzied love of physical beauty, or the inmate of the “House of Usher,” spiritual, poetical, musical, yet a monomaniac? Who will ever forget William Wilson, that disguised Poe, and his ghastly namesake who is finally slain in the surface of a mirror, and who is no other than a remonstrating conscience? We would like to, and yet would not for the world, forget that “Black Cat” which caused such horrid crimes, or that “Tell-tale Heart,” and that red eye glowing through the midnight, and bewitching us into crime; ‘for they recur to us in the fearful moments of our experience. They are the true children of Poe's brain. There are cases where the greatest crimes are committed both in the hear of passion and after cool deliberation, yet there is no case in which they exhibit the least subsequent regret or sorrow for the criminality in which they are stained.

The poetry of Poe is as peculiar as his tales. The same rigid intellectual beauty, the same remoteness from common life, the same want of sympathy with the humbly good and the lovely wise, are here preserved. It seems that he regarded the world, as we find it, as unfit for a noble and inspired mind. He constantly dwells in a remote spiritual realm, which he people with beings which ever he could love. His Ligeia, his Lenore, Annabel Lee — all his women are such as do not walk the paths of our prairie-world; they are too Platonic, too transcendental. They are not such a common men would presume to love; we could only fall at their feet and worship.

There is one other remarkable trait of the writings of Poe, if we consider his contempt for the conventional laws of morality; and that is their absolute freedom from human passion. There is not a sentence from beginning to end of all his writings which would excite in the most passionate bosom the slightest unchaste emotion. He was not like Byron and Moore, a poet of the heart, but rather like Shelley, a poet of the intellect. But, after all, however beautify and valuable are the works of Poe, they are only a partial proof of his high powers. We must regret that his fortune was not happier, that he was not full of love of his humbler brethren, and that his earlier life was not nourished with the tears and prayers of a loving mother. For his erratic career there are a thousand excuses which, though the starched Puritan would sneer at them, are yet most real and valid. The cup of his life was full of the bitterest gall. He was unceasingly bruising himself against the flinty angles of conventional life. There was no peace for him, save in the intoxication of the intellect; and we have to mourn that though this state was usually produced by intense mental activity, yet it was often the result of undignified and poisonous stimulants.

As it is, America owes to Poe a warm gratitude. It was he who fearlessly asserted the manhood of the cis-Atlantic mind. It was he who dared to scoff at the pedantry and arrogance of English criticism in al that came from America, and to waken up the public to a lively sense of their unmanly servility thereunto. And it was he who dared to prove and to exemplify, that something worthy, and manly, and beautiful in literature could come out of States more sunny than the fog-land of transcandental New England.




Since the author of this article had no personal knowledge of Poe, and offers no new information, the chief value of what he has written is as a representative example of effusions written about an idea of Poe that was broadly current at the time.

John P. Lacroix is presumably Rev John Power Lacroix (1833-1879), a Methodist minister who spent most of his life in Ohio, but taught for two years in New Orleans after graduating from the Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware in 1857. He continued his studies in Germany, and eventually obtained a Ph. D. from the Kentucky Military Institute and the Kentucky Wesleyan University. Being aware of his religious viewpoints likely explains some of the observations and tone of the article.



[S:0 - SD, 1858] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe (John P. Lacroix, 1858)