Text: Thomas Cottrell Clarke, “Midnight and Morning,” Our Monthly: A Magazine of Religion and Literature (Philadelphia, PA), vol. VII, no. 4, April 1873, pp. 250-255


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[THE writer of the following narrative has an unpublished life of E. A. Poe, which is withheld from publication from the impression that it can now serve no useful purpose. But there are some incidents in his career which emphatically show the great importance of “training up a child in the way he should go.” To a neglect of this training may be ascribed the unhappy career of this brilliant but erratic genius. The writer received a note from the late G. M. Dallas, in reference to his life of Poe. He said that when Minister to England, he had been present at a social gathering, when the novelist Bulwer gave recitations from Poe, and declared him to be the most t brilliant genius the country had ever produced. A similar assurance was received by the writer from Mr. B. Moran, Secretary of the American Legation in London. Although the Edinburgh Review, and other foreign magazines, have expressed similar views, they are by no means concurred in by judicious, sober-minded critics. ‘Still, his intellectual powers and scholastic acquirements were extraordinary, as well as his whole life. Mr. Poe was a resident of Philadelphia for several years; and during this period he was associated with the writer in literary labors, both as editor of a newspaper and a magazine. But not until some years later was the idea of a life suggested.

A misapprehension has prevailed in reference to the cause of Poe’s unhappiness; it being ascribed solely to the use of stimulants. The cause lies far back of this, and must be traced to the errors in his early training. Moral obliquity and gross neglect in childhood threw a blight over his whole life. In moments of despondency there was no principle upon which the mind could repose, and artificial [column 2:] stimulants supplied the deficiency. There was no good seed sown in the youthful mind, and this error, with its bitter fruits, imparts an interest to the subjoined sketch. The present seems to be a fitting moment for reiterating the Scripture maxim of training children in the way in which they should go; and what more practical lesson is there than incidents in the sad career of Edgar A. Poe, and the infinitely happier life of William H. Hewitson?]

Edgar A. Poe in this country, and William H. Hewitson in Scotland, in their early years possessed remarkable traits of character, a more striking resemblance in mind and person, than any two literary men of whom there is any record. They were born within the same year, lived to the same period, each dying at the early age of thirty-eight. They each started out upon the same literary career; pursuing a similar course of study for years, crowned alike with brilliant success, but each at length taking a different path — the one turning to the left, and, after a life of horrors, sinking down into the midnight darkness of despair; while the other, turning to the right, was blessed with the cheerful brightness of morning. The one was impressed from infancy with Christian influences, by maternal love, while the other, without father or mother, at a tender age was left alone when most needing the guiding hand. To this omission may be traced the evil which threw its dark shadows over the most unhappy life of the author of “The Raven;” thus showing the infinite importance of the right training of children — the incalculable value of early religious instruction.

From their memoirs, aided by a personal association in the literary experience [page 251:] of one, the facts are now presented, which briefly portray the marked resemblance, as well as the contrasts in their characters.

Of the same age both, when boys, were sent to England, at about the same period; and they both remained at school for the same length of time; each pursuing his studies in England for between five and six years. In person, Poe, says bis biographer, was below the medium height, slenderly but compactly formed, and in his better moments he had, in an eminent degree, that “air of gentlemanliness which men of a different order seldom succeed in acquiring.” In his youth Poe was of remarkable beauty and precocious wit. In person Hewitson, says his biographer, was of a delicate frame, and there was altogether a frankness and gentlemanly bearing about him. A spirit was in him which was essentially set on earth, and on earth’s things. The form which the boy’s earthliness took, was ambition, the love of praise. This too was eminently the case with Poe, not only in boyhood but throughout life. Unchastened ambition was the ruling passion with Poe. He would be sole master in the realms of thought; and would tolerate no rival, or only such as approached his standard of excellence. Hence originated much of the severe criticism, and the harsh controversy which embittered his life, giving color to the ungracious censure that he was naturally of an unamiable disposition. He was, in truth, the reverse of this in his better moments, but was easily excited, and too readily led away by passions uncontrolled by the gentle spirit which so beautifully illustrated the life of Hewitson.

In the periods of their birth and death, each dying at the age of thirty-eight; in their visits to England at the same period, and for the same purpose, and for the same length of time, as well as in the striking resemblance in personal appearance, and peculiar powers and brilliancy of intellect — in all these, as in minor points, their twin-like similarity imparts a deeper interest to the contrasts which marked their subsequent career, and their final close of life. [column 2:]

These coincidences are increased by the precocious intellectual powers, the mental energy, and collegiate proficiency of each. In Mr. Poe’s college life there exist reminiscences to show the remarkable ease with which he mastered the most difficult studies. His attainments in algebra and the higher mathematics, with the languages, were no less eminent than were his powers of analysis, and the perfect mastery of a style highly finished, graceful and classical. His mind was especially distinguished for its subtle acumen and clear analytical power. It was known that the highest prize in literature or science was always within his reach, whenever he choose to put forth his energies. So too, with his cotemporary. Mr. Hewitson’s mind was characterized by subtle acumen and analytical power. He unquestionably possessed an intellect in all respect similar, and equally as brilliant as Poe’s. In correct discrimination of mental states and habitudes, and generally in an exact appreciation of the precise value of the various elements in any complex question, Mr. Hewitson, says his biographer, possessed rare skill. And in these qualities Mr. Poe especially excelled. It has been remarked that Poe’s success at the bar would have been unquestionable, especially in complex and abstruse questions, requiring a quick, keen perception.

Hewitson, like Poe, was a true poet. Among his papers was found an unfinished epic poem, which though possessing the highest merit, was, with other poems, withheld from publication in compliance with his own desire, which his friends have sacredly respected. At the age of sixteen Hewitson was proficient in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; and at that early age translated difficult Latin and Greek authors into good English; laid them aside, and subsequently re-translated them, with decided success, into the original. Nor had he always the advantage of a tutor. Alone and unaided, he attained to greater knowledge and skill in languages than most boys do in the best academies. The foundation of his future eminence as a scholar was laid by himself. [page 252:]

On entering the University of Edinburgh he gave a convincing proof of his ability, competing for the gold medal usually awarded to the best Latin scholar, by the more distinguished alumni of the two great Edinburgh schools. His biographer says: ‘’Scarcely had he entered the lists when it speedily became apparent that the self-taught country lad would have few compeers. The trial awakened an intense interest, and finally terminated in ihe success of Ilewitson. On the m liming of the 31st of March, ISoS, as the gold medal was hung around his neck in the presence of the assembled students, he was, with an enthusiasm almost unparalleled, hailed the first man of his year.”

One more extract, and the parallel — the resemblance, at least in the more essential points — of these two youthful intellectual giants — will be complete.

“Even in his classics Howitson’s great aim was to reap the wisdom of books. His essays on the poetry of Horace, Pindar, and Æschyius — the last written in Greek — indicate a mind wealthy in thought, and these no common thoughts. ***** In metaphysical speculation he also acquired proficiency. Among his collegiate triumphs was his essay on ‘National Character,’ which gained the prize open to all the students of the University. This is spoken of as a noble production, and Professor Wilson. among others, anxiously pressed its publication: and, says his reverend biographer, ‘not long ago. no proposal could have been more grateful. But now — all is changed.’”

Up to this period, remarkable as the resemblance between the subjects of this narrative is shown to have been, that resemblance is henceforth to cease. The coincidence is at an end, and a contrast, equally remarkable, follows. Henceforth their path of life widely diverges; their aims are utterly dissimilar; as opposite indeed as it is possible for extremes to be. On stepping forth into the arena of life, turning the one to the left hand, and the other to the right, their career presents as extraordinary a contrast as the world of.letters has ever witnessed. The orphan Poe, desolate and alone, with no [column 2:] one to guide his steps in the way of peace, having no knowledge of the hope and consolation in believing, entered the dark shadow, and pursued a path beset with ghastly thoughts and interminable horrors, — the phantasy and coinage of his own brain. His mind was unillumined by the heavenly light which might have led him into the way of truth, and placed his feet upon a rock. There was a perpetual strife between him and virtue. He had, says one of his critics, for a brief period, the advantage of some grave counsel at college, but he left early, when his mind was merely in its adolescent state. In his subsequent transit through poverty and degradation, cast off by one who had once befriended him, he had to battle not only with the world, but with his own wild, visionary thoughts. The natural heart was barren of good; the seed was sown upon a hard, cold, uncongenial soil; sterile and hopeless from early neglect.

The Edinburgh Review, in a criticism of the harshest severity, in many respects both cruel and unjust, says Poe was the son of an American father and an English mother, (a beautiful and accomplished actress.) “On the death of his parents he was thrown penniless upon the world, and was subsequently adopted by a wealthy merchant, who sent him to school in England, and on his return to the United States entered him at the University, where the youth broke loose from the trammels of authority, and distinguished himself not only by his talents, but. by the wildest excesses. Poe, 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 with the highest honors, had not his 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 in his future life.” A sad picture indeed. This demon of intemperance was the direct means of his final destruction, after a brief life of suffering and madness. Why should this [page 253:] demon assail and overpower one so gifted? An intellect so strong, and so brilliant? The answer is plain. He had no other hope, no other reliance than on that strong and highly cultivated intellect, and it failed him. He built his foundation upon the ever-shifting quicksands of infidelity, and they involved him in despair, and at length overwhelmed him in the maniac’s grave. Nor was the poor “unfortunate” himself insensible to this fearful peril. According to one of his literary reviewers. Poe’s private letters to his friends offer abundant evidence that he was not insensible to the keenest pangs of remorse. Again and again did he anathematize the demon that tracked his path, but again and again did he behold him return, to torture and subdue. He saw the handwriting on the wall, but had no power to avert the impending doom.

He writes to a friend: “The agonies which I have lately endured have passed my soul through fire. HENCEFORTH I AM STRONG! This, those who love me shall know, as well as those who have so relentlessly sought to ruin me. I have no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have perilled life, reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories — from a sense of insupport able loneliness, and a dread of some strange impending doom.” Says the same critic: “No human sympathy, no human charity could avert the penalties of that erring life. One clear glance into its mournful corridors” — its halls of tragedy and chambers of retribution “would appal the boldest heart.”

“Henceforth I am strong.” Fatal words. His strength was in man, in the power of his own might; the intellect in which he boasted, and which led him, alas! far away from the only source of peace.

Hewitson, turning to the better way, passed his hours in seeking the Prince of Peace, and in doing good to others. Passing his life thus, its closing scenes offered a final contrast with those of Poe, as great as that between midnight darkness and the morning light. [column 2:]

A brief space may be afforded here for some passages, in continuation of the contrast, which are set forth in the life of Hewitson after he left college. “Ambition,” he writes, “is a devil, and public praise is a siren which soothes while it destroys. I was burning to enter the arena of learned competition, and thought life without fame not worth possessing. For awhile the demon was lord of the ascendant, and baleful was the influence which it shed upon my character. Around my heart’s fixed centre there has been revolving in panorama a wide circumference of change. The autumnal wind is now passing with fitful and melancholy howl; so too. there is a stir and a rush, as it were of winds in the atmosphere of the soul, and there ara sighings around the doorway of the heart.”

The tendency of his mind, at this period, was evidently in the direction of Poe’s. Like him, his intellect inclined to that path of interminable doubts and horrors which, had it been pursued, would doubtless have hurried him to a similar termination. But the fearful peril was passed! thanks to the gentle and tender influences, the blessed remembrances of childhood. The trial was a severe one. “The darkening of the understanding,” he writes, “the influx of unholy thoughts that came uncalled and filled the soul with horror; the difficulty of realizing God’s presence and holy character; the agitation of doubts and fears, and darkness, and of a heart that seems to grieve for sin, but yet is so hard that its grief looks not like the grief of repentance; and then the prayer of that hard heart, the unprofitable prayer, and the grief that it has been unprofitable. Can you form any idea of that condition? Such a state resembles a state of madness, or of demoniacal possession.” The thought here occurs, were these such prayers as Poe is said to have uttered when, leaving the sick b d of his loved and loving wife, he walked the streets in madness or melancholy; with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayer — never for himself, but for those he loved?

“From boyhood my thoughts,” says [page 254:] Hewitson, “have been directed through the darkness of futurity, in the same straight channel invariably to the attainment of that object of noblest ambition, the ministry of the gospel. That is the grand object of my existence, identified with all my hopes and fears, the centre of my very soul. If it be not gained, a dark cloud will settle all around my path, a blighting chill will benumb all my faculties.” How different were the proud aspirations which at that period filled the soul of Poe. How his lip would have curled in contempt at intimations like these. He would set aside the idea of a Divine revelation, and thus set the soul adrift amid fantastical, appalling theories of transcendental, rationalistic pantheism. What subtle reasonings and insane vagaries mark his “Eureka”! How immeasurable the superiority of the believer’s trust, since if true, as he knows it to be, he will have his reward in the life everlasting; and if there be no hereafter, no God, as “the fool saith in his heart,” then they can be but with the infidel in his eternal sleep, having had here the assistance and the consolation of an exalted hope through life.

To a friend on the death of his wife, Hewitson writes: “My sympathy with you in your sorrow is mingled with another feeling in which you will, yourself, still more abundantly participate — sympathy with her whom the Lord has taken from you to himself, in her present


“To be persuaded on good grounds, that though now for a season she is from home as to the body, she is at home with the Lord, full of unspeakable joy; how great is the consolation which that is fitted to afford you in your affliction! She is resting now from her labors and sufferings, and meanwhile she is waiting for the day when you and she again will meet; O, in what altered circumstances, before the throne of the Lamb. Yet a little while, and things invisible will be invisible no more. Then, radiant with immortality, and wearing the crown of righteousness — such is the hope you cherish — you and she will have [column 2:] communion face to face, and a present Saviour, your best beloved, will make the joy of both to overflow.

“So far as she is personally concerned, we are called to sympathize only with gladness of heart. The event which has put sorrow into your heart has put gladness into hers. What an alleviation this is of your sorrows! What a cause of thankfulness to the God of all grace, who called her into fellowship with His Son! All things work together for good to them that love God.”


These few passages of sympathy and consolation, in the perfect joy and peace which they breathe, possess more real, intrinsic value, infinitely more worth than all the insanity of transcendentalism and pantheism of Poe, or of his literary productions, of which a foreign Review says: “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 narrative, 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 a spectacle of some frightful disaster; relieved, because the worst is over, and happy that we are left to return to the calmer sensations of ordinary life.”

A short time before the death of Hewitson, which is represented as having been truly patient, resigned and happy, he wrote as follows, and with this extract we close our narrative of the events in the life of this brilliantly endowed, highly educated and strong-minded man; whose course of life, in its usefulness and uniform happiness, is in such wonderful contrast to that of the equally brilliant genius, whose life of intense excitement and unremitting sorrow closed amid sufferings and wretchedness at which the soul shudders.

“Nothing,” says William Hewitson, [page 255:] “has more attractive and heart-weaning power than habitual contemplation of the Lord’s living person. Our Redeemer is no mere abstraction, no ideality that has its being only in our own shifting thoughts. He is the most independently personal of all persons, and the most absolutely living of all who live. He is the first and the last, and the Living One. He is so near us, as the Son of God, that we can feel His warm breath on our souls; and as the Son of Man, He has a heart like those hearts of ours — a human heart, meek and lowly, tender, kind and sympathizing. In the Word — the almost viva voce utterance of himself — his arm of power is stretched forth beside you, that you may lean on it with all your weight; and in the Word, also, His love is revealed, that in the bosom of it you may lay your aching head, and forget your sorrow in the abundance of His consolation. The Living One who died, we must contemplate; to Him wc must look, that we may be weaned and won over wholly to God; that we may be strengthened, spiritualized, and sanctified.”

After the physicians had given up all hope of his recovery, one who saw him thus speaks of his appearance: “The truth of the prophet was never more fully exemplified than in him. ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is staid on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.’ He looked to all of us more like one that had just stepped down from the mansions of our Father in heaven, than one just going to them.”

Such were the closing hours of a great intellect, in childlike trust and humility purified through life, and sanctified in death by simple religious principle, a trust in God and His Son. Wanting these, that brilliant and highly cultivated intellect might have been as desolate as the friend whose life of suffering we have [column 2:] seen, and whose errors we deplore. At this period Poe’s mind was intently occupied with his “Eureka,” a work in which the subtlest and highest capacities labored in bewildering metaphysical speculations, to show forth a better way than that of the Holy Gospel. In the Preface to this masterpiece of his intellect, he thus commends his ungracious labors: “To the few who love me, and whom I love; to those who feel rather than those who think, to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as the only realities, I offer this book of truth; not in the character of truth-teller, but for the beauty that abounds in its truth, constituting its truth. ***** What I here propound is true; therefore it cannot die; or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will rise again to life everlasting.”

As a fit and closing commentary upon all of this, we present a passage from the poet-dreamer’s memoir, premising that, filled with high hopes, he was on his way from New York to a city of the South, to fulfil an engagement with a lady to whom he was betrothed. “In a strange city, away from his friends and home, the erring and unfortunate Edgar A. Poe, after a night of debauch leading to insanity and exposure, was carried to a hospital, and there, on the evening of Sunday, October 7th, 1849, he died a wretched outcast, at the age of thirty-eight years.”

Of William Hewitson, it is written by his reverend biographer: “After a few words, he calmly fell asleep on the 7th of August, 1850, at the age of thirty-eight years.”

Such is the parallel, such the contrast — the blind, fathomless midnight, and the bright, glorious morning — of two most brilliant, richly endowed and highly cultivated intellects; such their own choice of the way of life, and such the closing scenes.



William Hepburn Hewitson (1812-1850) was a Presbyterian minister, ordained in Scotland in 1844. Although Poe was actually born in 1809, Clarke was understandably still working under the widely-held error that Poe was born in 1811. The “reverend biographer” of Hewitson was Rev. John Ballie (1816-1890), who published a Memoir of the Rev. W. H. Hewitson in 1851 that was well received and went through several editions printed in London and New York. Ballie also published Select Letters and Remains of the Late Rev. W. H. Hewitson, in two volumes, in 1853, which also went through multiple printings. At least one of the extended quotations matches exactly, although the portion quoted by Clarke about Hewitson’s death is not exactly the same as given by Ballie in his memoir. Clarke may be paraphrasing for dramatic effect.


[S:0 - EPING, 1873] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Midnight and Morning (T. C. Clarke, 1873)