Text: Eugene L. Didier, “Poe as a Man and as a Poet,” Literary World (Boston, MA), vol. XI, no. 23, November 6, 1880, pp. 393-394


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[page 393, column 2:]

POE AS A MAN AND AS A POET.

THE Poe literary revival is now at its hight [[height]]. The dedication of a monument to the poet at Baltimore, in the autumn of 1875, gave anew impetus to this movement, which has extended to England and the continent of Europe. In France, Baudelaire translated Poe’s Tales with faithful exactness; and Mallarmé (“fascinated with the works of Poe from my infancy,” as he wrote to Mrs. Whitman) reproduced “The Raven” with fine effect; his tales and poems, more or less complete, have been published in German, Spanish, and Italian; and his name and works are familiar to readers in Russia, Poland, and Hungary.

Five biographies of Poe have been published during the last five years. Of these, Mr. Stoddard’s(1) is the most recent, but we cannot say it is the best. In his preface, he makes the bold claim that his “is the only life of Poe written with no intention but that of telling the truth . . . — the only life in which the poet’s career from beginning to end is clearly and intelligently traced” — that “it deals with facts, and not with fancies,” etc. Yet we find that he accepts, with childish confidence, Mrs. Weiss’s fanciful reminiscences of the poet, and copies them almost in full, and repeats the substance of Dr. Moran’s so. called account of Poe’s last days, which has been contradicted by the only surviving relative of the poet who was present at his death-bed. It is now known that Dr. Moran’s statement is purely imaginary; that Poe was taken to the hospital on the 3d of October, 1849, where he lingered in an unconscious condition until the 7th, when he died. Dr. Moran says he was “ brought to the hospital on the morning of the 7th of October, and died about midnight of the same day”; that he “was found lying upon a bench on Pratt street wharf”: whereas he was found at a polling place on Lombard street. Dr Moran gives a detailed account of Poe’s “last words.” Here is a specimen “The arched heavens encompass me, and God has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlets of every created human being, and demons incarnate; their goal will be the seething waves of black despair. Where is the buoy, life-boat, strip of fire, sea of brass? Rest, shore no more.” Dr. Moran was the resident physician of the hospital; but Poe died in the arms of Dr. William M. Cullen, the physician whose duty it was to attend to the patients; and we have his authority for saying that the wild and incoherent words attributed to the poet were never uttered by him on his death-bed. It is only justice to add that Mr. Stoddard rejects that part of Dr. Moran’s “recollection.” [column 3:]

Mr. Stoddard scrupulously avoids mentioning by name any of the eight biographers of Poe; but he has not scrupled to appropriate their material and incorporate it in his memoir, without any credit whatever. The present writer has perhaps suffered more than any other in this respect, especially in the early portion of the memoir. Living in Baltimore, among the friends and relatives of Poe, I have been enabled to gather information not accessible to persons at a distance. That portion of Mr. Stoddard’s work relating to the poet’s grandfather and to his father’s early infatuation for the stage, as well as the whole of the account of Poe’s school-days in Richmond. is taken from my memoir which was published in 1876. The latter was given to me by Prof. Joseph H. Clarke, his teacher, who is still living in Baltimore at the advanced age of ninety years.

Mr. Stoddard has surpassed the other biographers of Poe in one particular at least — he has invented a birthday for him. He says. “As it might have been on the 19th of February, I have fixed upon that day as his birthday.” Certainly an original reason for deciding a man’s birthday because it might have been. It might have been also on the 19th of May or June. The doctors will have to decide whether Mrs. Poe could have played on the stage on the 24th of February after the birth of her son on the 19th, Mrs. Clemm told me that he was born on the 19th of January, 1809.

We believe Mr. Stoddard has written his memoir in a spirit of perfect impartiality, so far as Poe is concerned. We believe he has done ample justice to his life and genius that he has a sincere sympathy for the poet’s hapless fate, and a thorough appreciation of his extraordinary talents. But, viewing his biographic sketch in the most favorable light, we cannot discover that he has added anything to our knowledge of Poe which had not been made known by previous writers.

We deem it only justice to say that the present reaction in favor of Edgar A. Poe is greatly due to the intelligent appreciation of Mr. Widdleton, the American publisher of his works. He has generously aided and encouraged every attempt to vindicate the poet’s memory.

Mr. Stedman has written the most careful analysis of Poe’s genius that has yet been given to the world.(2) The students and scholars of this and other countries will be glad that he has taken his admirable essay from the soon-forgotten pages of a magazine, and preserved it in the exquisitely dainty little volume before us. He has evidently studied Poe’s works with conscientious diligence; and, although we do not wholly agree with his estimate of the poet, we frankly admit that nine tenths of his readers will. He manifests a genuine feeling for the “sensitive feminine spirit,” whose life was darkened by sorrow and suffering, [page 394:] and whose death was as “swift, irreparable, black with terror as that of any drama ever written.” While bestowing high praise upon Poe’s poetry, Mr. Stedman says truly that “his intellectual strength and rarest imagination are to be found in his ‘Tales.’” He goes on to say that Poe “was an apostle of the art that refuses to take its color from a given time or country, and of the revolt against commonplace; and his invention partook of the romantic and won. derful. He added to the Greek perception of form the oriental passion for decoration. All the materials of the wizard’s craft were at his command. He was not a pupil of Beckford, Godwin, Hoffman, or Fouqué; yet, if these writers were to be grouped, we should think also of Poe, and give him no second place among them.”

Mr. Stedman pronounces the “Literati” a prose Dunciad; but he does not do full justice to Poe’s powerful analytical criticism, which drove the dunces from the literary temple. He also depreciates Poe’s scholarship: “He easily threw a glamour of erudition about his work by the use of phrases from old authors he had read. It was his knack to cull sentences which, taken by themselves, produce a weird or impressive effect, and to reframe them skilfully. This plan was clever, but it partook of trickery.” Poe was a consummate literary artist. His writings are more carefully finished than any American writer of the time. As Kennedy said of him: “His taste was replete with classical flavor, and he wrote in the spirit of an old Greek philosopher.” In conclusion, let us say, with Mr. Stedman, that, “instead of recounting Poe’s infirmities, and deriding them, we should hedge him round with our protection. We can find one man of sense among a thousand, but how rarely a poet with such a gift!”

EUGENE L. DIDIER.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 393, column 2:]

1.  Select Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Poetical and Prose. With new Memoir by R. H. Stoddard. W. J. Widdleton. $2.00.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of the article, page 394, column 1:]

2.  Edgar Allan Poe. A Biographical and Critical Essay. By Edward Clarence Stedman. Houghton, Mifflin Co. $1.00


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Notes:

This article is the only more or less contemporary mention of Dr. William M. Cullen, about whom very little is known. He is listed as a graduate of the Washingtion University of Baltimore about the time of Poe’s death, and presumably worked at least part of his residency at the hospital. A portrait of Dr. Cullen may be found in the collection of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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[S:0 - LW, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe as a Man and as a Poet (E. L. Didier, 1880)