Text: Anonymous, “[Review of Poe's Poems, Illustrated],” Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (Wheeling, VA), vol. 7, no. 83, November 30, 1858, p. 3, col. 2


[page 3, column 2:]

By the late mails we have from the publisher, J. S. Redfield, New York, a beautifully gotten up duodecimo volume of Edgar A. Poe's poems, illustrated. To illustrate Poe would naturally seem to require Poe himself, and of course artistic litterateurs will differ greatly in their estimates of these finely executed (whatever the designs may be) pictures. The book opens with an original biographical sketch of Poe, which is much the same with several critiques that we have read. In fact it seems impossible for Poe's biographers to be far apart, for his individuality was so distinct, his genius and his sins being alike so obvious, as to admit of no material discrepancy. The best thing that can be said for him, in our opinion, is said in this sketch before us, viz” “that it would be well for all poets if nothing more were known of their lives, than what they infuse into their poetry.” Edgar A. Poe had probably the worst moral character of any man who ever wrote poetry. The author of this memoir thinks he has found a key to the true interpretation of Poe, in the fact “that there is nowhere discernable in his writings the consciousness of moral responsibility.”

“They are full of the subtleties of passion of grief, despair, and longing, but they contain nothing that indicates a sense of moral rectitude. They are the productions of one whose religion was a worship of the Beautiful, and who knew no beauty but that which was purely sensuous. There were but two kinds of beauty for him, and they were Form and Color. He revelled in an ideal world of perfect shows, and was made wretched by any imperfection of art. The Lenore whose loss he deplored, was a fair being to the eye, a beautiful creature, like Undine, without a soul. With this key to the character of the poet, there is no difficulty in fully comprehending the strange inconsistencies, the baseness and nobleness which his wayward life exhibited.”

This is a tolerable fair specimen of the style of the memoir from which we quote, as it is also, in all likelihood, a just appreciation of the subject of the memoir.

The poems open, of course, with the “Raven,” from which, for the sake of the illustration we quote:

“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.

'Tis some visitor, I muttered — tapping at my chamber door,

Only this and nothing more.

The illustration of the opening of the poem whereon Poe's fame as a poet rests, is that of a young seated in a massive cushioned chair, before a table, upon which is a lamp of the old fashioned, shaded, and sending forth some wild flickers of light around the disordered looking apartment. The youth is half turned round in his chair, his brow somewhat contorted, while an expression of semi-abstraction, wonder and fear is over his features. He is supposed to be listening for a repetition of the rapping at his “chamber door.” He holds in his hands one of the quaint volumes of “forgotten lore,” while several more, with huge clasps on, lie scattered about or piled up in an old casement before him.

This opening of the Raven is not a passage about which there could be much doubt or much merit in the illustration. It is entirely matter of fact. A more difficult, or rather a totally different passage for the skill of the designer, was that of the opening of “Ulalume.” For instance: who could definitively call up before them in a shape presentable to the outward eye such a place as this?

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.”

The illustration here is a moorland lake, begirt with thriftless looking trees and clumps of bushes; the place looks dismally dark — the back ground in the sky only being relieved by a subdued sheen of moon light.

These two lines in Israfel are well, but not strikingly illustrated:

“In heave a spirit doth dwell,

Whose heart-strings are a lute.”

The most vivid illustration is the first one in the “City of the Sea.” The ghostly phantom of Death hovering above the gloom of the water bound city is drear enough.

We have not space for further quotation of these illustrations to-day. They serve to show what are the conceptions, as near as may be expressed, of some minds poetically imbued, of the strange unearthly fancies of the wayward Poe.







[S:0 - WDI, 1858] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Review of Poe's Poems, Illustrated (Anonymous, 1858)