Text: Anonymous, “[Review of] Edgar Poe and His Critics,” Saturday Press (New York, NY), vol. III, no. 8, February 25, 1860, p. 2, col. 4



These words form the title of a book written by Sarah Helen Whitman, of Providence, R. I., and published in this city by Messrs. Rudd & Carleton.

The little book commends itself to the notice of the public by the importance of its subject, the reputation of its author, and the elegance of its mechanical style.

It has long been known that Mrs. Whitman intended to publish a defence of Poe. For certain sufficient reasons, it was expected that her statement would possess the authentic value of intimate knowledge. This book has therefore been eagerly anticipated and is now pleasantly received by a large number of readers interested in the subject to which it relates.

It is well known that, subsequent to the death of Poe, Mr. Rufus Wilmot Griswold became his literary executor, and wrote his Memoir. And it is equally well known that, in the way of literary biography, there are few things more amusing or more contemptible than the Memoir that Dr. Griswold wrote. Of the Doctor himself we have nothing to say. We remember, as Mrs. Whitman counsels us to do, “that the memorialist now claims from us that tender grace of charity that he was unwilling or unable to accord to the man who trusted him as a friend.”

Of the charges against Poe which are set down in that Memoir, many are entirely trivial, some are undoubtedly false, and some probably are true. They are, in substance, that he was dissipated in youth, and never became respectable; that he was frequently inebriated; that he was neither diligent nor honest in business; that he was irregular and extravagant; that he was poor; that he married a woman unfit to be his wife; that he assumed to be insane, and was full of affections; that he printed contradictory judgements of men and books; that he was a plagiarist; and, finally, that he exhibited scarcely any virtue in either his life or his writings.

In regard to all this, Mrs. Whitman’s design is thus set forth in the Preface to her book: “Dr. Griswold’s Memoir of Poe has been extensively read and circulated; its perverted facts and baseless assumptions have been adopted into every subsequent memoir and notice of the poet, and have been translated into many languages. For ten years this great wrong to the dead has passed unchallenged and unrebuked.

“It has been assumed by a recent English critic that ‘Edgar Poe had no friends.’ As an index to a more equitable and intelligible theory of the idiosyncrasies of his life, and as an earnest protest against the spirit of Dr. Griswold’s unjust memoir, these pages are submitted to his more candid readers and critics by One of his Friends.”

As a defense of Poe against the specific charges of Dr. Griswold, this book disappoints its preface and amounts to nothing. As regarding certain unimportant calumnies of certain obscure people, it amounts to a complete refutation.

One critic is mentioned who is not obscure. That is the gentle George Gilfillan, of whom it has been felicitously remarked that he thinks himself a great painter because he paints with a big brush. This critic has stated that Poe caused the death of his wife in order that he might have a fitting theme for the Raven. “A serious objection to this ingenious theory,” retorts Mrs. Whitman, “may perhaps be found in the refractory fact that the poem was published more than a year before the event which it was intended to commemorate.”

For ourselves we confess a weariness of critical discussions relating to Edgar Allan Poe. To view this man aright the world is not yet far enough away from him. The grass has not withered on his grave.

Time will inaugurate a broader and truer custom of criticism than any which prevails in the present. When the test of small morality is no longer applied to genius and to art; when impertinent curiosity, rebuked by the sanctity of private life, ceases to unveil the errors and infirmities of the private man; when works of art are judged as works of art, and genius is analyzed without reference to the petty chances and accidents of physical or social life, — then will criticism cease to be gossip; then will genius, intellect, and art imperially command and reverentially receive the recognition, the sympathy, the justice of mankind.



The Saturday Press was edited by Henry Clapp, Jr (1814-1875). The Poe Society gratefully acknowledges Richard Fusco for making a trip to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to refer to the original newspaper and provide the few words missing from the microfilm due to a fold in the page. (The fold obscures the beginning of the final paragraph.)


[S:0 - SP, 1860] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Review of Edgar Poe and His Critics (Anonymous, 1860)