Text: Anonymous, “[Review of Stedman and Woodberry edition of Poe's Works, Volume I],” New York Times (New York, NY), vol. XLIV, whole no. 13,563, February 9, 1895, p. 3, cols. 1-2


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THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. Newly Collected and Edited, with a Memoir, Critical Introductions and Notes by Edmund Clarence Stedman and George Edward Woodberry. The illustrations by Albert Edward Sterner In ten volumes. Vol. I. 12mo. Chicago: Stone & Kimball.


The need of a new and complete edition of Poe, with a careful and reverent revision of the text, to remove the errors of printers which have survived half a century, and here and there to substitute for ill-considered phrases the amendments found in memoranda among the poet's effects after his death, may not have been strongly felt, but it is easily understood now that the result of the labors of the new editors has begun to appear. The Redfield edition of 1850, edited by Griswold, has been the only American edition, and until lately was protected by copyrights. From time, to time it has been enlarged, and a few corrections have been made in its text, both the additions and corrections having been suggested by the English editions of Ingram. The present editors say of the Griswold edition:

“It was good enough for his own time; and, in view of the contemporary uncertainty of Poe's fame, the difficulty of obtaining a publisher, and the fact that the editorial work was not paid for, little fault can justly be found with Griswold, who did secure what Poe in his lifetime could never accomplish — a tolerably complete collected edition of the tales, reviews, and poems. But after the lapse of nearly half a century something more may be exacted from those who have had the custody of a great writer's works, and something more is due from those who care for the literature of the country.”

It was essential that the work, to be of permanent value. should be undertaken by men of experience, knowledge, perfect sympathy with the subject, and the breadth of view and moderation that would keep them clear of any of the temptations that must beset the editors of Poe. Between the harshly unjust opinions of Poe and his work freely expressed by some of his associates and contemporaries and the eloquent raptures of Baudelaire and his followers there may be much debatable ground, but there is only one absolutely right critical position to take in regard to any author whose works have become classic, and this position has been firmly taken in the present case by Messrs. Stedman and Woodberry. It matters very little now whether Baudelaire's fanciful idea that this country was to Poe only the vast prison of a being made to breathe in a rarer world, and that his inner life was a ceaseless effort to escape, or Charles F. Briggs's settled conviction, expressed to Lowell, that Poe's character was “characterless,” that he was “utterly deficient of high motive,” is nearer the truth. The time of conflict over the poet and his poetry has passed, and his fame and influence are living. It was desirable that this rearrangement and revision of the works of his genius should be final and bear the stamp of authority, that the relation of the man's work to his life should be clearly and sanely set forth, without prejudice, and that the inevitable critical estimate of his writing in his writing in his various stages of development should be thorough, comprehensive, written with knowledge of all that had been said and thought of it, and with a complete understanding of the work itself. Doubtless no other men in this country were better fitted for this arduous and delicate task than these who have, at length, undertaken it.

The spirit of Mr. Woodberry's admirable biography is here reflected in a Memoir, of ample proportions, yet not too long or too ponderous; for its place, and clear, logical, and interesting, while Mr. Stedman prefaces the “Tales,” to which the first five volumes will be devoted, with a dispassionate and luminous analysis of Poe's prose writing which seems to us to constitute, as far as it goes, the most sensible appreciation of the subject we have ever seen, and is marked by perfect taste, good feeling, sympathy, and discrimination. Of course, it needed a lapse of years to get the just point of view and dissociate the vulgarity and often self-inflicted misery of the man as far as possible, from his writings, though a complete dissociation is not to be thought of, for under the strange influence of many of the weird tales with which this volume is filled, the reader yet finds his mind reverting to Mr. Woodberry's account of Poe's daily life with his consumptive child-wife, and the moods of the opium eater and brandy drinker are vividly reflected in them. Mr. Stedman repeats the aphorism that no work of art can be absolutely impersonal, and we feel its force keenly in presence of this portion of the works of the poet whose creed was that in perfect beauty consists the fullest truth, and who wrote either for the sake of beauty alone or “like Defoe, to hold the reader in the verisimilitude of actual experience.” Mr. Stedman seems to find in Hoffman Poe's nearest literary progenitor. “If the one had died before the other's birth instead of thirteen years later, there would be a chance for a pretty fancy in behalf of the doctrine of metempsychosis, which both these writers utilized.” There was a likeness to Hoffman in his life. In the quality of his mind, in his choice of themes, in his ideals, at least once in the very details of his writing, for the mere story of “The Fall of the House of Usher” bears a striking resemblance to Hoffman's “Das Majorat.” But Poe was many-sided, and the critic finds in his varying moods strange resemblances to many other writers, yet he was unlike them all, and was a creator, an originator, a genius, if ever literature produced one. Certainly of the modern cryptogram and police detective tale he was the first master. His “Purloined Letter,” from which the French dramatist, Sardou, got the principle idea in “Les Pattes de Mouches,” and his “Mystery of the Rue Morgue,” and his “Marie Roget, were forerunners of a school, or of divers [[diverse]] schools, of fiction. Mr. Stedman finds cadences of Coleridge and De Quincey in his other writings, hints of Hawthorne and Thackeray. His sense of beauty was inborn and powerful, but its development it was often distorted by the false standards prevailing in his day, from whose influence, being mortal, he could not escape. His style was varied and faulty, for much the same reason, the effect of environment and circumstance.

“As a foil to the perfection of a few tales, his everyday looseness can be exasperating. He loads his narratives with enough of ‘however,’ ‘in fact,’ ‘it should be added,’ ‘to be sure,’ and the like, to increase their length appreciably, yet seems unconscious of this special vice. His discursive and ingenious mode of thought drove him to an absurd over-use of the parenthesis, and to such dependence upon the dash, in punctuation, that in self-justification he planned a discourse upon its utility. Between his own monomania and the usage in his day, the task of a logical repunctuation of his literary remains is most trying, yet still more indispensable. His vocabulary was meagre; pet words and phrases constantly recur, and many do service alike in his verse and prose. This is the more strange, considering his frequently incomparable artistic skill.”

Concerning the facts of his life, one may sympathise keenly with the trials of a sensitive temperament in battle with ignorance and vulgarity, and may have the tenderest pity for the victims of bad passions and worse appetites, and yet not view all the accredited circumstance with mournful gravity. Perhaps the saddest not struck in Mr. Woodberry's Memoir — in which there is never a suggestion of straining for effect — is in that letter written by Poe in New-York to Mrs. Clemm, his mother-in-law, in Philadelphia, recounting the comforts of life in a Greenwich Street boarding house, where the tea was strong, and there were two heaping plates of cold veal and cold ham on the table. At that time Poe was a famous man. He had something over four dollars in his pockets, [column 2:] and while he wrote, “Sis” was busy mending his “pants,” which he “tore against a nail. The bitter incongruousness of this makes it touching. But those late “love” affairs of the poet, those singularly involved attachments to middle-aged poetesses, which seem to be fixed forever as essential incidents in the story of his life, are the reverse of romantic, and at this late day can be viewed only as humorous episodes. With the long sallow face of Poe before us is the frontispiece — Sartain's familiar engraving — we cannot help recalling the amatory experiences of Alfred Jingle, Esq., at the hall in Bull Inn, Rochester, and at Dingley Dell.

As for the weird tales In the first volume of the new edition. Mr. Stedman's remark that ‘’the reader who chanced in youth to come upon one of Poe's finer stories is not likely to have forgotten its impression on his unjaded sense, the inexperience and ignorance of the sorrows and afflictions of real life were indispensable to the effect. One who has not read “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for instance, since his youth, recalls keenly its thrill and horrible fascination, but finds it now, beautiful in cadence, imaginative, even powerful, but not thrilling, or awful. Mr. Stedman's association of the mystery and feeling in this with Browning's “Childe Roland” is striking, but somewhat vague. The contents of the first volume include, besides the Romances of Death, the Old World Romances, among which are “The Masque of the Red Death,” the marvelously wrought “Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” an inferior story, in Mr. Stedman's opinion, but one of Poe's best remembered and oftenest reproduced nightmares. The typography of the new edition is admirable, the binding is tasteful, and Mr, Sterner's pictures show that he worked himself thoroughly into the Poe mood when he made them.





[S:0 - NYT, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Review of Stedman and Woodberry Edition of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe [Part I] (Anonymous, 1895)