Text: Bryan Waller Proctor, “Edgar Allan Poe,” Edinburgh Review (Edinburgh, UK), vol. CVII, no. 2, April 1858, 215-227.


[page 215:]

ART. V. — The Works of the late Edgar Allan Poe: with a Memoir by RUFUS WILMOT GRISWOLD, and Notices of his Life and Genius by N. P. WILLIS and J. R. LOWELL. 4 vols. New York: 1857.

EDGAR ALLAN POE was incontestably one of the most worthless persons of whom we have any record in the world of letters. Many authors have been as idle; many as improvident; some as drunken and dissipated; and a few, perhaps, as treacherous and ungrateful; but he seems to have succeeded in attracting and combining, in his own person, all the floating vices which genius had hitherto shown itself capable of grasping in its widest and most eccentric orbit. As the faults of this writer present themselves more upon a level with the ordinary gaze than the loftier qualities which his friends ascribe to him, we shall venture to introduce him to the reader, in the first instance, by his humbler every day actions; satisfied that it is not of much moment how a picture has been commenced, if the proportions prove correct at last. Fuseli, as we know, preferred beginning his sketch of the human figure at the lowest point, and worked from the foot upwards. In like manner, we shall begin with the defects, — or, to give them their true title, with the substantial vices of Edgar Poe, — proposing to ourselves to ascend ultimately to his virtues, should we discover any; at all events, to those rare qualities and endowments, the demonstration of which has entitled him to no mean place on the rolls of the Temple of Fame.

He was, as we have said, a blackguard of undeniable mark. Yet his chances of success at the outset of life were great and manifold. Nature was bountiful to him; bestowing upon him a pleasing person and excellent talents. Fortune favoured him; education and society expanded and polished his intellect, and improved his manner into an insinuating and almost irresistible address. Upon these foundations he took his stand; became early very popular amongst his associates; and might have erected a laudable reputation, had he possessed ordinary prudence. But he defied his good Genius. There was a perpetual strife between him and virtue, in which virtue was very triumphant. His moral stamen was weak, and demanded resolute treatment; but instead of seeking a bracing and healthy atmosphere, he preferred the impurer airs, and gave way readily to those low and vulgar appetites, which infallibly relax and press down the victim to the lowest state of social abasement. [column 2:]

He arrived at the end of his descent, after many alarms, many warnings, that might have deterred him, and induced him to try another course. For the most instructive teaching of Edgar Poe was in the roughest school of life. He had, indeed, for a brief period the advantage of some grave counsel at Charlottesville. But he left that place early, when his intellect was merely in its adolescent state. It was in his subsequent transit through poverty and degradation, when he had to battle not only with the world, but also with those compunctious visitors that force their way into the most obstinate bosom, that he received his most valuable lessons. The natural soil, however, was barred of good. The seed was sown upon a rock; or, if the reader prefer it, upon one of those shifting unprofitable sands which no culture will bring into fertility.

It seems impossible to have kept him upright. His tendency was decidedly downwards. He was, time after time, cautioned, forgiven, punished. All tender expostulation, all severe measures, were alike unavailable. The usual prizes of life, — reputation, competency, friendship, love, — presented themselves in turn; but they were all in turn neglected or forfeited, — repeatedly, in fact, abandoned, under the detestable passion for drink. He outraged his benefactor, he deceived his friends, he sacrificed his love, — he became a beggar, — a vagabond, — the slanderer of a woman, — the delirious drunken pauper of a common hospital, — hated by some — despised by others — and avoided by all respectable men. The weakness of human natures has, we imagine, its limit; but the biography of Poe has satisfied us that the lowest abyss of moral imbecility and disrepute was never attained until he came, and stood forth a warning to the times to come.

We say all this very unwillingly; for we admire sincerely many things that Mr. Poe has produced. We are willing to believe that there may have been, as Mrs. Osgood has stated, an amiable side to his character, and that his mother-in-law had cause to lament his loss. We learn, moreover, from Mr. Willis, that at one time, in the latter portion of his life, ‘he was invariably punctual and industrious.’ The testimony of that gentleman and Mr. Lowell (both men of eminence in literature) tempted us at first to suspend our opinion of the author; but the weight of evidence on the darker side proved overwhelming, and left us no choice but to admit the fact upon record, and to stigmatise with our most decided reprobation those misdeeds that seem to have constituted almost the only history of his short career. [page 216:]

And, here, let it not be surmised that Poe was an ‘enemy only to himself.’ His was, as Mr. Griswold states, a ‘shrewd and naturally unamiable character.’ We refuse our assent to the argument of one of his advocates, that ‘his whole nature was reversed by a single glass of wine;’ and that ‘his insulting arrogance and bad heartedness’ had no deeper origin than a modicum of that agreeable liquid. We lean rather to the ancient proverb, which asserts that Truth is made manifest upon convivial occasions. Moreover, his ingratitude and insults towards Mr. Allan, Mr. White, Mr. Burton, and his affianced wife, — his harsh and dishonest criticisms upon Mr. Osborn and Mr. Jones (each, in fact, contradicted by himself) and others, were not momentary flashes of ill humour; while his long and elaborate deprecation of Mr. Longfellow (one part of it meriting particular condemnation), and finally his deliberate threats of publicly slandering a lady merely because she claimed the return of a loan of money, cannot by possibility be referred to so feeble and temporary an impetus as ‘a single glass of wine.’ They sprang undoubtedly from what Mr. Griswold calls ‘his naturally unamiable character.’

To this and to his moral weakness must be ascribed the melancholy and poverty which we are told overshadowed his life. That he was very often unhappy we have no doubt; but that condition of mind was obviously referable to his excesses. It was the collapse after the high-strained revel. That he was frequently poor enough is also very probable; and yet, what is that but saying that he shared the ordinary fortunes of authors, many of whom too readily barter for the pleasures of writing and popularity, or the remote chances of future fame, those material comforts which are found to spring generally from regular mechanical industry, or other unexciting employments of common life. Some of these men, however, endure poverty very bravely; some with little help and no sympathy; some for years, — some for all their humble and laborious days. They begin life with bright hopes and resolute hearts. They see above them Parnassus or Helicon, quite accessible. There is El Dorado also, in the misty distance. Yet they work on, from hour to hour, from week to week, without much repining. And, at the end of many years, perhaps, they discover that their only reward has been in the shape of a vulgar payment, — a loaf of bread, a pot of beer, and an empty garret. Finally, they die without an historian to chronicle their labours, or even to notice their having once existed. Their very comrades content themselves [column 2:] with looking out for better fare to-morrow, and will pass on to another friend.

We turn now, without more ado, to the biography and Works before us. In the front of the first volume is the portrait of the author. It deserves note. His friends speak of his pale and beautiful face. Upon ourselves the impression made is very different. It seems rather to confirm the opinion derived from his history and writings. It seems to us pinched, painful, jealous, irritable, and weak; and is altogether wanting in that frank, manly, generous character which takes the fancy of the beholder at the first glance.

Edgar Allan Poe, we are told, was the son of an American father and an English mother. On the death of his respectable parents, which event occurred when he was about six years of age, he was thrown penniless upon the world. Providence decreed that he should be adopted by a rich and benevolent merchant, Mr. John Allan. This gentleman took him to England; placed him at a school there for four or five years; and, on his return to the United States, entered him at the University of Charlottesville. Here the youth broke loose from the trammels of authority, and distinguished himself not only by his talents, but by the wildest excesses. It is argued, in his excuse, that the manners of the University at this time were extremely dissolute. Poe, however, young as he was, exceeded all his fellows. Not only, it is said, was he ‘the wildest and most reckless student of his class;’ but he mastered the most difficult problems with ease, and kept ‘all the while in the first rank for scholarship.’ He would, in fact, have ‘graduated in the highest honours, had not his gambling, intemperance, and other vices induced his expulsion from the University.’ Thus early did the demon disclose itself which was to have such an overwhelming influence on his future life.

His allowance of money at Charlottesville had been liberal; yet he quitted that place very much in debt, and when Mr. Allan refused to pay some of his losses at gaming, he wrote him an abusive letter and left his house.

For about a year he seems to have wandered through Europe; but at the end of that time he contrives to reach St. Petersburgh, where the American minister (Mr. Middleton) is summoned one day to save him from the penalties of a drunken debauch. Through this gentleman's kindness Poe is enabled to return to America. Mr. Allan (although he is now not so cordial as formerly) declares himself still willing to serve the culprit, and, at his request, exerts his [page 217:] interest and obtains a scholarship in the military academy. Here Poe works assiduously for some months, but his habits of dissipation are renewed, and in ‘ten months from his matriculation he is cashiered.’

Upon this second expulsion he goes once more to the house of Mr. Allan, at Richmond, who is even then disposed to treat him as a son, but Poe, by some very offensive act, forces his old patron to close his doors against him. At this time it appears that Mr. Allan had married, for his second wife, a Miss Paterson, who was considerably younger than himself. Poe's own account of this offence is that he only ridiculed this marriage of his benefactor, and had a quarrel with his wife. But a much darker story is told on the other side, and one that is said to be damnatory to Poe's character. That the offence was very grave is undoubted, inasmuch as Mr. Allan, hitherto so repeatedly forgiving, thought it necessary to banish the ‘adopted son’ from his house, and refused to see him again. On the gentleman's death in 1834, it was found that of his large property, ‘not a mill’ was bequeathed to Poe.

Our future author now endeavours to earn his bread by printing a volume of poems, and by contributing to the journals. The result is a failure; and his next step is to enlist as a private soldier, and then — to desert. His friends surmise that he probably did not like the ‘monotony of a soldier's life.’ It does not appear that he encountered the punishment which he deserved for his breach of military discipline; but that he had to fare hardly is clearly the case. For he subsequently contests for, and (almost as a matter of course) obtains, a certain prize offered by the proprietor of ‘The Baltimore Saturday Visitor;’ and upon the occasion comes forward in a state of the most squalid poverty. His destitute condition, indeed, operates so effectually on some compassionate people, especially on a Mr. Kennedy, that he is sent to a clothing store, and afterwards to a bath, in order to enable him to recover, outwardly at least, the appearance of a gentleman.

By the help of his new friends he obtains the editorship of a ‘Richmond Magazine,’ but after a short time is found ‘in a condition of brutish drunkenness,’ which ‘results in his dismissal.’ His employer at this time was a Mr. White, a gentleman evidently kind and long-enduring, but who at the same time speaks very plainly to ‘Edgar;’ consenting to take him back as an assistant, only on condition that he will ‘promise to separate from the bottle.’ This [column 2:] promise is of course speedily made, — and as speedily broken.

We are not able to ascertain the precise date at which he borrowed a poem from Professor Longfellow, imitated it, and afterwards denounced the author as a plagiarist from himself, the Simulator. The mimic poem is called ‘The Haunted House,’ and is one of Poe's best pieces of verse. The original is ‘The Beleaguered City,’ of Mr. Longfellow. There are, necessarily, statement and counterstatement in this case; but while we have the most entire reliance on Mr. Longfellow's word, we confess that we place none whatever on the assertion of Edgar Poe.

Poe's next appearance is as a writer in a magazine established by Mr. Burton, in Philadelphia. He remains with this gentleman till June 1840, more than a year. This long lapse into sobriety is followed by the usual fit of intemperance. ‘On one occasion returning after the regular day of publication, he [Mr. Burton] found the number unfinished, and Poe incapable of duty.’ Notwithstanding this the wretched culprit is forgiven, and accepted again as a coadjutor in the magazine, his employer however addressing to him some words of counsel, from which may be discerned a fresh and not very favourable feature in Poe's character.

‘You must get rid,’ Mr. Burton advises, ‘of your avowed ill-feelings toward your brother authors. You say the people love havoc. I think they love justice. I think you yourself would not have written the article on Dawes, in a more healthy state of mind. I am not trammelled by any vulgar consideration of expediency. I would rather lose money than by such undue severity wound the feelings of a kind-hearted and honourable man. I regret your word-catching spirit.’

This letter, at once so sensible and so honourable to its writer, was productive of no good result. It would seem rather to have generated, or to speak more correctly, to have encouraged the growth of some of those seeds of malignity and ingratitude which had been slumbering in the breast of his correspondent; for,

‘In two or three months afterwards Burton went out of town to fulfil a professional engagement, leaving material and directions for completing the next number of the magazine in four days. He was absent nearly a fortnight, and on his return he found that his printer in the meanwhile had not received a line of copy; but that Poe had prepared the prospectus of a new monthly, and obtained transcripts of his subscription and account books, to be used in a scheme for supplanting him!

From the house of Mr. Burton our author [page 218:] migrates to that of Mr. Graham, where he is installed as editor of ‘Graham's Magazine.’ He works there for a short time, and is again dismissed. He then tries to establish a journal of his own, called ‘The Stylus,’ but fails, and eventually, in 1844, removes to New York. Here he distinguishes himself by borrowing fifty dollars from a ‘celebrated literary lady.’ On failing to repay them on the day promised, and being asked for an acknowledgment of the debt, to be shown to the lady's husband, he at once denies all knowledge of the transaction, and threatens to exhibit, to the husband, a correspondence which, as he states, ‘would make the woman infamous if she said any more on the subject.’ Such correspondence had never existed!

After being made acquainted with this act, which could only have emanated from a creature in the very lowest condition of depravity, the reader will naturally dismiss from his breast all sympathy with the good or bad fortune of Mr. Edgar Poe.

The few remaining incidents of his life afford little or no variety or relief from the foregoing history. They are all tinged by the same gloom. His wife, whom he had married when residing at Richmond, dies. During her last illness, her mother is met going about from place to place, in the bitter weather, half-starved and thinly clad, with a poem or some other literary article, which she was striving to sell; or otherwise she was begging for him and his poor partner, both being in want of the commonest necessaries of life.

Nevertheless, even after this prostration, Poe seems to have arisen for a short period, and to have signalized himself by some more literary activity. He wrote an essay, entitled ‘Eureka,’ delivered lectures, and — his wife being then dead — engaged himself to marry ‘one of the most brilliant women of New England.’ This engagement, however, is one that he means to break. ‘Mark me,’ he says, ‘I shall not marry her.’ In furtherance of this gentlemanlike decision, he deliberately gets drunk, and on the evening before the appointed bridal is found ‘reeling through the streets, and in his drunkenness commits, at her house, such outrages, as render it necessary to summon the police.’ He went from New York with a ‘determination thus to induce the ending of the engagement,’ and — succeeded.

His last journey is now to be taken. He travels as far as Baltimore, but never returns. He is seen a short time afterwards in that city, in such a state as induced by long-continued intoxication, and after ‘a night of insanity and exposure,’ he is carried [column 2:] to a hospital, and there, on the evening of Sunday, the 7th day of October, 1849, he dies, at the age of thirty-eight years!

One of his biographers concludes with the words, ‘It is a melancholy history.’ We trust that it will prove a profitable one; for unless we are mistaken, it involves a moral that may be studied with advantage by future authors. We have now to offer an opinion on the peculiar features and literary value of Poe's productions in prose and verse. In reference to the former, we are disposed to think that we can trace his inspiration in a great measure to the writings of Godwin and Charles Brockden Browne. There is in each the same love of the morbid and improbable; the same frequent straining of the interest; the same tracing, step by step, logically as it were and elaborately, through all its complicated relations, a terrible mystery to its source. These authors pursue events through all their possible involutions, but seldom deal with character. There is indeed a singular want of the dramatic faculty in all these eminent persons. Godwin, it is true, in his ‘Fleetwood’ and ‘Mandeville,’ and Browne in ‘Ormond,’ and ‘Arthur Mervyn,’ made an effort to draw forth some human peculiarities; but their personages are a little more, after all, than stately abstractions of impersonations of certain moods or guesses of their own minds, the results of solitary thinking. Whatever latent qualities they possess, each of their figures reminds one somewhat of the cocoon, — a thing drawn from the entrails of its parent, with no apparent vitality about it.

Notwithstanding the appearance of originality, due perhaps more to the eccentricity of his life and the deformity of his moral character than to the vigour or freshness of his intellect, it is easy to trace throughout Edgar Poe's writings impressions derived from authors he had chanced to read or contrivances which had dwelt in his memory. So little indeed can he be considered a truly original writer, that he perpetually reminds us of something we have read before. Sometimes he imitates the matter-of-fact precision that gives such reality to the fiction of Defoe; sometimes he pursues the fantastical or horrible night mares of Hoffmann; sometimes a thought visits him from the highly wrought philosophy of Novalis, or the huge and irregular genius of Jean Paul; sometimes he loses himself, like the Louis Lambert of Balzac, in the labyrinth of transcendental speculation. But though he resembles these writers in his love of the marvelous, and in his ingenious treatment of it, he is inferior to the least of them in [page 219:] depth. His reading was doubtless curious rather than accurate, desultory rather than wide; and his genius grew rank in a half-cultivated soil.*

Considered apart from his poetry, Poe's fictions seem to resolve themselves for the most part into two classes: — one like those to which we have already adverted, where a series of facts woven mysteriously out of some unknown premises are brought apparently to a logical result; the other, where the author deals strictly with a single event; where there is little or no preliminary matter, but the reader is at once hurried into a species of catastrophe, or conclusion of the most exciting character. These last-mentioned fictions are necessarily short, because the sympathy of the reader could not possibly remain at the high point of tension to which he is raised by the torture of the scene. In a few instances we encounter merely a gloomy scene, (sometimes very highly wrought and picturesque,) or a human being fashioned out of the most ghastly materials, — a tale, in short, without any result, properly speaking. We look in at the death-bed of a man; we see him writhe — utter a few words referable to some imperfectly disclosed event; or he professes to expound, under mesmeric influence, while he is dying, or when he is dead, certain things which the human mind in its wakeful healthy state is quite incapable of comprehending.

It should not be forgotten that in some of these sketches, which are the most mysterious in their treatment, the author has contrived to absolve himself from the necessity of verifying, in his usual manner, the rationale of his design. He ascends into the cloudiest regions of metaphysics, of speculation, — of conjecture, — of dreams! God, as we learn, amongst other things, from ‘Mesmeric revelation,’ is ‘unparticled matter.’ From M. Valdemar we collect that a man, thrown into a mesmeric state just before death, will not only speak after death, but will remain unaltered for some months afterwards, and only betray the frail and crumbling evidence of his mortality, when [column 2:] a few ‘mesmeric passes’ have succeeded in restoring him to his real decayed condition. He then falls to pieces and dissolves, ‘a mass of loathsome putrescence.’ — That such sketches were considered by the author as unimportant, and not as a grand or final effort to ensure himself a name in the literature of his country, we can really believe. Nevertheless there is something very morbid in all these fancies and prolusions of the intellect.

There can be no question but that Edgar Poe possessed much subtlety of thought; an acute reasoning faculty; imagination of a gloomy character, and a remarkable power of analysis. This last quality, which from its frequent use almost verges upon disease, pervaded nearly all his stories, and is in effect his main characteristic. Other persons have drawn as unreservedly from the depths of horror. But few others, with the exception of Browne and Godwin, have devoted themselves to that curious persevering analysis of worldly mysteries by which Poe has earned so large a portion of his reputation. The impression made upon the mind of the reader by the apparently wonderful solutions of the most difficult problems will not easily be forgotten. Yet, on examining the marvel more attentively, he will divest himself of a good deal of his admiration, by reflecting (as Dr. Griswold justly observes) that the ingenuity is displayed ‘in unraveling a web which has been woven for the express purpose of unravelling.’ Every man, in fact, is able readily to explain the riddle which he himself has fabricated, however laborious the process of manufacturing it may have been.

How far the thrilling interest which Poe infused into his stories may be traced to the acute sensations which he himself endured in a state of excitement or despondency, we have no means of knowing. But we think that no writer would have resorted so incessantly to the violent measures and extreme distresses which constitute the subject of his narratives, in a good sound condition of health. His imagination appears to have been absolutely embarrassed by a profusion of visionary alarms and horrors. We rise up from his pages as from the spectacle of some frightful disaster, — relieved because the worst is over, happy that we are left at last to partake of less stirring pleasures, and to return to the calmer sensations of ordinary life.

Edgar Poe had no humour, properly so called. His laugh was feeble, or it was a laugh of ill-temper, exhibiting little beyond the turbulences of his own mind. He was carping and sarcastic, and threw out occasionally [page 220:] a shower of sharp words upon the demerits of his contemporaries; but of that genial humour which shines through a character, fixes it in a class, and shows by what natural gradations it moves, and by what aspects and impulses it claims to resemble the large brotherhood of man, he possessed nothing. The ordinary incidents of life — the domestic affections, the passions, the intermixture of good and evil, of strength and weakness, in the great human family who pass by our doors every day, and who sit beside us, love us, serve us, maltreat us (as the varying mood prompts), were unknown to him, or disregarded. Yet these things constitute the staple — the best and most essential parts of the modern novel. They intrude themselves, in fact, into our acquaintance, so frequently, so intimately, that we cannot ignore their existence. In the present case, we are at a loss to understand how a person so acute as our author could have neglected to place upon record what must have so incessantly forced itself upon his observation; nay, what must have met and jostled him so frequently in his rough journey through life.

Of the tales in which the analytical power of the author is more obviously exerted, the least unpleasant are ‘The Purloined Letter,’ and ‘The Golden Bug.’ ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ and ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget,’ are, like too many of his other fictions, saturated with blood. In order that the reader may satisfy his curiosity as to the construction of these plots, the stories themselves must be read. It is quite impossible, in the space at present at our command, to transcribe either of these stories, and without such complete transcription the mysterious minute details, in which and in the tracing and solution of which the merit resides, cannot be explained. We elect, therefore, to take our extract from a sketch in which another quality of the author's mind can be shown.

A youth is supposed to be sitting on the top of a cliff or It is called ‘ Helseggen the ‘ cloudy,’ and arose, ‘a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet high.’ The mountain overlooking the sea. youth's companion, an old fisherman, bids him look out towards the Norway coast, — beyond the belt of vapour beneath us, into the sea.’

‘We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes [column 2:] upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean

beneath us was rapidly changing into current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed — to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of

the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion — heaving, boiling, hissing — gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes, except in precipitous descents.

‘In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. Suddenly — very suddenly — this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.

‘The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation.

‘ “This,’ said I at length, to the old man — ‘ “This can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström.’

‘ “So it is sometimes termed,’ said he. ‘We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway.”’ (Vol. i, pp. 163, 164)

‘You have had a good look at the whirl,’ says the old man, and now I’ll tell you a story that will convince you that I ought to know something of the Moskoe-ström.’ And he accordingly tells him how he and his brothers, having been out fishing one day, three years ago, and being about to return home, but having mistaken the hour, were met by an adverse wind. It was fresh on their starboard quarter, and favourable when they set out, but all at once they were taken aback by an unusual breeze from over Helseggen. They could not make way, and one of them was proposing to return to their [page 221:] anchorage, when they observed the whole of the horizon covered with a singular copper-coloured cloud, that rose with the most ‘amazing velocity.’ In a minute the storm was upon them. The masts went by the board, taking with them the narrator's

younger brother. He and his elder brother, however, cling to the barque.

‘ “For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt some body grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped but the next for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard moment all this joy was turned into horror — for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word ‘ Moskoe-ström!

‘ “No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what he meant by that one word well enough — I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Ström, and nothing could save us!

‘ “You perceive that in crossing the Ström channel, we always went a long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to wait and watch carefully for the slack — but now we were driving right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! ‘To be sure,’ I thought, ‘we shall get there just about the slack there is some little hope in that’ — but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.”’ (Vol. i, pp. 169, 170)

They are now within a quarter of a mile of the Moskoe-ström. They recognise the place, but it is no more like the every-day whirlpool than the whirlpool itself is like a mill race.

‘ “It could not have been more than two minutes afterwards when we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek — such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water -pipes of many thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We

were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss — down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne [column 2:] along. The boat did

not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.

‘ “How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I had never left go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavoured to force my hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act — although I knew he was a madman when he did it — a raving maniac through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point with him. I knew it could make no difference, whether either of us held on at all; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was no great difficulty in doing; for the smack flew round steadily enough, and upon an even keel — only swaying to and fro, with the immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.

‘ “As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them — while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. sense of falling had ceased; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before, while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took courage and looked once again upon the scene.

‘ “Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

‘ “At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downwards. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She was quite upon an even [page 222:] keel — that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with that of the water — but this latter sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.

‘ “The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom — but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.

‘ “Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had carried us to a great distance down the slope; but our farther descent was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept — not with any uniform movement — but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a few hundred yards — sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.

‘ “Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been

delirious — for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents towards the foam below. ‘This fir tree,’ I found myself at one time saying, ‘will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,’ — and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all — this fact

— the fact of my invariable miscalculation — set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.

‘ “It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown forth by the Moskoe-strom. By far the greater number of the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way — so chafed and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of splinters — but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of them which were not disfigured at [column 2:] all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the only ones which had been completely absorbed — that the others had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, from some reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early or absorbed more rapidly.’ (Pp. 172-5.)

He thereupon lashes himself to a water-cask near him, cuts it from the counter, and precipitates himself into the sea. The barrel, with its occupant, is returned by gradual gyrations to the surface of the sea, and the man is saved!

Although we cannot, as we have said, afford space for the entire transcript of ‘The Purloined Letter,’ we may venture to present a passage or two, showing with what perseverance

and care the Parisian police are supposed to carry on a search when a large reward is in prospect.

A lady of the highest rank, it seems, has lost a letter, which, if given up to her husband, would compromise her reputation. The thief is the Minister D., who holds the thing in terrorem over her. The prefect of police is employed to regain it, and an enormous sum offered for its recovery. After failing in his efforts, he consults a certain M. Auguste Dupin, who requires to know the particulars of the search already made. They were as follows: —

‘ “Why the fact is, we took our time, and we searched every where. I have had long experience in these affairs. I took the entire building, room by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We examined, first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every possible drawer; and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police agent, such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Any man is a dolt who permits a ‘secret’ drawer to escape him in a search of this kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk — of space — to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth part of a line could not escape us. After the cabinets we took the chairs. The cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ. From the tables we removed the tops.”

‘ “’Why so?”

‘ “Sometimes the top of a table, or other similarly arranged piece of furniture, is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article; then the leg is excavated, the article deposited within the cavity, and the top replaced. The bottoms and tops of bedposts are employed in the same way.’

‘ “‘But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?” I asked. [page 223:]

‘ “‘By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding of cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our case, we were obliged to proceed without noise.’

‘ “‘But you could not have removed — you could not have taken to pieces, all articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to make a deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed into a thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or bulk from a large knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted into the rung of a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the chairs?”

‘ “Certainly not; but we did better — we examined the rungs of every chair in the hotel, and, indeed, the jointings of every description of furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing — any unusual gaping in the joints — would have sufficed to insure detection.”

‘ “I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the plates, and you probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as well as the curtains and carpets.’

‘ “That of course; and when we had absolutely completed every particle of the furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that none might be missed; then we scrutinized each individual square inch throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately adjoining, with the microscope, as before.”

‘ “The two houses adjoining!’ I exclaimed; ‘you must have had a great deal of trouble.’

‘ “We had; but the reward offered is prodigious.”

‘ “You include the grounds about the houses?”

‘ “All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it undisturbed.”

‘ “You looked among D——'s papers, of course, and into the books of the library?”

‘ “Certainly; we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened every book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting ourselves with a mere shake, according to the fashion of some of our police officers. We also measured the thickness of every book-cover, with the most accurate admeasurement, and applied to each the most jealous scrutiny of the microscope. Had any of the bindings been recently meddled with, it would have been

utterly impossible that the fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six volumes, just from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed, longitudinally, with the needles?

‘ “You explored the floors beneath the carpets?”

‘ “Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with the microscope.”

‘ “And the paper on the walls?”

‘ “Yes.”

‘ “You looked into the cellars?”

‘ “ We did?’ (Pp. 267-9.)

Dupin advises him to make a re-search of [column 2:] the premises, and at the same time asks for an accurate description of the lost letter. The prefect makes the second search as advised, but returns unsuccessful. ‘Did you offer a reward?’ is the inquiry. ‘Yes, the reward offered was very liberal? In fact, the object to be attained was so great that the prefect would himself give 50,000 francs for the letter. ‘In that case? replies Dupin, opening a drawer and producing his cheque-book, ‘you may as ‘well fill me up a cheque, and I will hand you the letter; ‘ and the exchange is made between the parties accordingly.

Dupin is asked, by the astonished prefect, to account for his success. In the first instance, when consulted by the prefect, he had suggested — ‘Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the ‘thing which puts you at fault? but he had been ridiculed for so absurd a supposition. ‘What nonsense you talk?’ the prefect had observed. Yet Dupin proves to be right. Knowing the Minister D ——, it appeared that M. Dupin had called at his hotel, and, upon the pretext of weak eyes, assumed a pair of green spectacles, in order to conceal the inquisitive survey which he proposed to make of the apartments. He first examined a writing-table, with letters and papers upon it, near which the minister sate.

‘ “At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four compartments, were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the middle — as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a large black seal, bearing the D—— cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D———, the minister, himself. It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.

‘ “No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from the one of which the prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D—— cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S—— family. Here, the address, to the Minister, was diminutive and feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But, then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits of D——, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness [page 224:] of the document; these things, together with the hyperobtrusive situation of this document, full in view of every visitor, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I bad previously arrived; these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect.

‘ “I protracted my visit as long as possible, and while I maintained a most animated discussion with the Minister, upon a topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the minister good morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.’ ‘ (Pp. 278, 279.)

He goes home, prepares carefully a fac-simile of the letter, and returns next morning for his snuff-box. During the gossip which ensues upon his visit, a loud report of fire-arms, accompanied by screams, is heard underneath the minister's window. That functionary throws up the sash for a moment to ascertain the cause of the disturbance, and during this interval Dupin exchanges his fac-simile for the original letter so ardently desired. The. man who fires the pistol is a colleague of Dupin. — The reasoning upon which Dupin proceeds in this matter must

be sought for in the tale itself.

We had marked, as worthy of extract, a short story, entitled ‘The Cask of Amontillado; ‘ but we are obliged to content ourselves with merely recommending it to the reader's notice. The tenor of it is as follows: — A man, owing to some previous slight or insult, entertains the most implacable hatred towards another. During the Carnival (for the scene is laid in Italy), he insinuates himself into the society of his victim, who is a great amateur of rare wines, and inflames his imagination so much by the description of a certain matchless cask of Amontillado, that the other is induced to visit the subterranean cellar, in order to taste it. They (the two) proceed there accordingly; the tempter in some ordinary carnival disguise; the doomed man in the motley grotesque dress of a Fool or Zany, with the usual cap and bells. All things having been prepared beforehand, the amateur is induced to drink, glass after glass, [column 2:] until he becomes intoxicated and stupid. In this state, the other proceeds to build him up, in a recess in the wall. His task is almost done; and he is just about to fix the last stone in its place, when the poor drunkard shakes his fool's bells, and utters a single half-conscious cry of alarm. The murderer, staggered by the sound, hesitates fora moment, — only a moment, — and then completes his diabolical task; shuts up his enemy alive in his grave, and returns to the upper air and society. He is oppressed, however, by remorse, which never leaves him till he dies. The helpless cry of the stupified victim, and the clash of his bells — a terrible incident in the murderous gloom of the scene — will ring for a long time (unless we mistake) in the reader's memory.

The poetical works of the author need not detain us long. With one remarkable exception, his verses do not differ materially from others of the same time. They are neither very good nor very bad. They do not exhibit much depth or graphic power, and but little tenderness — nor do they, in fact, possess any of those distinguishing qualities which lift a man up beyond his contemporaries. The blank verse is not good; but some of the smaller pieces have a smoothness and liquid flow that are pleasant enough. One short poem, said to have been written at the age of fourteen, and addressed ‘To Helen,’ is full of promise.

Of all Mr. Poe's poems, however, ‘The Raven’ is by far the first. It is, like the larger part of the author's writings, of a gloomy cast; but its merit is great; and it ranks in that rare and remarkable class of productions which suffice singly to make a reputation. Whether or not it was manufactured in the deliberate way stated by the writer in his article on ‘The Philosophy of Composition,’ we do not know; but the passage in which he dissects with anatomical precision what might otherwise pass for the offspring of impulse and of genius, is curiously characteristic of his analytical disposition. The poem itself, however, deserves to be remembered by all lovers of verse. In the United States its popularity is universal, but we believe it still to be far less known in this country than it ought to be. We therefore transcribe the greater portion of it.

‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. [page 225:]

“ 'Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Only this and nothing more.”

‘Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Nameless here for evermore.

‘And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“ 'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door —

Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;

This it is and nothing more.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

‘Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

‘Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore —

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

‘Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door —

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

‘But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. [column 2:]

Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered —

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before —

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

‘Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never — nevermore.’ ”

‘But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

‘This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

‘Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

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

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted —

On this home by Horror haunted — tell me truly, I implore —

Is there — is there balm in Gilead? — tell me — tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

‘ “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil — prophet still, if bird or devil! [page 226:]

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, “Nevermore.”

‘ “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!

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, “Nevermore.”

‘And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

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

Shall be lifted — nevermore!’

We do not propose to enter into the accuracy of the numerous investigations which Mr. Poe appears to have instituted into the publications of his brother and sister authors. To say the truth, we do not estimate his powers as a critic very highly. His essays on Criticism were, we imagine, written on the spur of the moment, without much consideration, and were more than sufficiently imbued with those prejudices with which he was so apt, we are told, to view the works of contemporary writers. Some of his essays are very slight and brief; some flippant; some distinguishable for that remarkable power of analysis which he carried into all his productions. His review of ‘Barnaby Rudge,’ in the third volume of this collection, is an extraordinary instance of his subtle and discriminating research into the very elements of fiction. It is impossible to trace out with greater nicety the very germ of a plot, and the finest artifices of invention. But here the interest of Edgar Poe's criticisms stops: few of them enter into the question of the peculiar genius of the author reviewed, of the class to which he belongs, of the way in which education and events have moulded him, of his habits of every day life, or of those impulses or physical circumstances which have impelled his intellect to assume that particular shape in which it presents itself before the world. [column 2:]

Without entering into some such considerations, the critic can scarcely place his author fairly on his pedestal. We feel, even in the case of Mr. Poe, that it would have been more desirable if a fuller biography had accompanied his works. Honest and able, as far as it goes, and glancing upon the more prominent events of his life, it leaves us without information on many matters from which much might have been gathered to form an accurate judgment. Perhaps we are, after all, copying the deformities only of the man, at a time when we are anxious to submit all that was good as well as bad to the reader's judgment. The roughnesses that were so conspicuous on the surface of Poe's character would naturally attract the notice of his biographers in the first instance. But, underneath, was there nothing to tell of? — no cheeriness in the boy — no casual acts of kindness — no adhesion to old friendships — no sympathy with the poor or the unhappy, that might have been brought forward as indicative of his better nature? Even he himself has done nothing to help us. His sketches and stories are singularly deficient in all reference to his own private life. It is strange that a man who did and suffered so much should have left nothing for the historian's hands! The petty acts are indeed before us, but perhaps ‘the greatest is behind.’ For no man is thoroughly evil. There must be slumbering virtues — good intentions undeveloped, — even good actions, claiming to have a place on the record. Generosity, sympathy, charity have often their abodes in lowly and unexpected places — in poor, thoughtless, humble bosoms — in the hearts of those who have deeply sinned.

The influence of his faults was limited and the penalty (such as it was) he only had to bear. But the pleasure arising from his writings has been shared by many thousand people. In speaking of himself personally, we have felt bound to express our opinions without any subterfuge. But we are not insensible that, whilst he grasped and pressed hardly on some individuals with one hand, with the other he scattered his gifts in abundance on the public. These gifts are by no means of a common order, and on balancing the account of the author with posterity, he ought to have credit for their full value. Fortunately for Edgar Poe, his personal history will be less read, and will be more short-lived than his fictions, which will probably pass into many hands, unaccompanied by the narrative of his personal exploits. For one reader who carefully weighs the actions of an author's life, there are a hundred who plunge into the midst of his works without [page 227:] any previous injury. The sempstress revelling in ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ neither knows nor cares anything about the comfortable, domestic Mrs. Radcliffe. And the young man, intent on cheering his leisure hour with the adventures of Mrs. Amelia Booth, or Mr. Abraham Adams, has never heard perhaps that Henry Fielding (the noblest member of the house of Denbigh) was as often reduced to shifts as one of his own heroes, and that he died poor, and in a foreign land.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 219, column 1:]

* It is a curious example of his superficial acquaintance with the literature of other lands, that in recapitulating the titles of a mysterious library of books in the ‘House of Usher,’ he quotes among a list of cabalistic volumes Gresset's ‘Vertvert,’ evidently in complete ignorance of what he is talking about. Gresset's ‘Vertvert’ is the antipodes of Poe's ‘Raven’; but the comic interest of the former poem, and the tragic interest of the latter, turns alike on the reiteration of bird-language: and it is not impossible that Poe may have had in his mind some vague impression or recollection of Gresset's celebrated parrot.



Bryan Waller Proctor (1787-1874) was an English poet (under the pseudonym of Barry Cornwall). Although now largely forgotten, he was a prominent literary figure in his day. In addition to poetry, he contributed essays and reviews to various magazines, including the Edinburgh Magazine. William T. Bandy identified him as the author of this unsigned review in “A Poe Detractor Unmasked,” Poe Studies, June 1977, Vol. X, No. 1, 10:28, using as his source Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals (1, 507). Clearly, Proctor had no source for his view of Poe beyond Griswold's deliberately malicious and misleading “Memoir,” which clearly tainted his thoughts. The chief value of the article is as an historical artifact, reflecting a sense of Poe at that time. It was also articles such as this, and the one by George Gilfilan, that inspired another Englishman, John Henry Ingram, to attempt to redeem Poe's reputation.


[S:0 - EM, 1858] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Review of The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (B. W. Proctor, 1858)