Text: Anonymous, “Calamities of Genius,” Gloversville Intelligencer (Gloversville, NY), vol. IX, no. 22, May 27, 1875, p. 1, col. 7


Calamities of Genius.

The lives of men of genius are often a record of persecutions, misery and poverty. Whenever we turn in the history of those whose thought have enlightened and cultivated the minds of their fellow beings, we find that gloom and shadow have too often been their inseparable companions, haunting them, and casting a blight on their paths.

The most successful literary men are frequently those who have suffered most. Here and there we meet with one whose life has been unchequered by adversity; but such instances are rare, and are generally among those who have not been dependent on literary labor for support. Even Pope, the most successful author of his age, was not exempted from the misfortunes of his profession, a and he thus writes in the preface of his works:

“I believe if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration.” And Byron, in conversation with Lady Blessington, in speaking of his daughter, said, “I am told that she is clever — I hope not; and, above all, I hope she is not poetical; the price paid for such advantages, if advantages they be, is such as to make me pray that my child may escape them.” What a confession, emanating from the lips of a child of genius and fortune!

The great Cervantes — whose inimitable “Don Quixote” has found its way into almost every home, which has been translated into all languages, and proved the fortune of many a bookseller — is said to have died of hunger. It is barely to be credited, but he is not the only great mind which has succumbed before the horrors of poverty and has yielded to starvation. Thomas Otway, one of England’s most illustrious dramatists, and the author of “The Orphan” and “Venice Preserved,” he whose talents in scenes of passionate affection, in the language of Sir Walter Scott, “rival at least, and sometimes excel those of Shakespeare,” died from the effects of suffocation, caused by his hastily swallowing, after a long fast, a piece of bread, which charity had supplied. Johnson, in his “Lives of the Poets,” thus describes the unfortunate event: “He (Otway) went out almost naked, in the rage of hunger, and finding a gentleman in a neighboring coffee house, asked him for a shilling. The gentleman gave him a guinea, and Otway, going away bought a roll, and was choked at the first mouthful.

America has produced one great genius whose calamities deserve mention in this list; one who, though to a great extent the author of his own sufferings, deserves our warmest sympathy. We refer to the immortal writer of “The Raven,” of “Ligeia,” and of “Morella” — Edgar A. Poe. Bred in opulence, enjoying advantages in his youth possessed by few, he was fated to pass through a maturity illumined by scarcely a ray of sunshine. Darkness and gloom enshrouded his path, converting the high and noble mind into the cynical and bitter antagonist of his more successful contemporaries.

In that nobly-written vindication and analysis of Poe’s character, entitled “Edgar Poe and His Critics,” Mrs. Whitman says: “Nothing so solitary, nothing so hopeless, nothing so desolate as his spirit in its darker moods has been instanced in the literary history of the nineteenth century.” She might well have added, in the whole history of literature. Mr. Griswold, in his “Memoir” of the poet, thus describes the appearance of Poe on the occasion of his calling on a committee to receive the award for a prize essay which he had written: “Thin and pale even to ghastliness, his whole appearance indicated sickness and the utmost destitution. A well-worm frock coat concealed the absence of a shirt, and imperfect boots disclosed the want of hose.”

Chatterton, “the marvellous boy,” regarding whom the learned antiquaries, Dr. Mills, Herbert Croft, and Dr. Knox have disputed whether as a poet he should be placed after Shakespeare or Dryden, committed suicide in his eighteenth year, driven to desperation by his poverty.

At the inquest held by the coroner on his body, Edwin Cross, an apothecary, stated as follows: “I often asked him to take a meal with us, but he was so pround, that I could never but once prevail on him, though I knew he was starting.”

Dryden died in a garret, in an obscure corner of London; and Spencer died forsaken and in want. Butler, author of “Hudibras,” lived in penury, and died poor; and the great, the illustrious Bacon, lived a life of meanness and distress.

Boyle, in his authoritative “Historical and Critical Dictionary,” quotes the following from a letter by James Howell, an English political and historical writer and poet: “Lord Bacon died so poor that he scarce left money enough to bury him.”





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