Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 13,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 167-208


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THE closing month of 1841 left Edgar Poe in one of the most brilliant and prosperous periods of his literary career. The current volume of Graham’s Magazine ended in a blaze of triumph, the final page containing the statement that, “Perhaps the editors of no magazine, either in America or Europe, ever sat down at the close of a year to contemplate the progress of their work with more satisfaction than we do now. Our success has been unexampled, almost in credible. We may assert, without fear of contradiction, that no periodical ever witnessed the same increase during so short a period. We began the year almost unknown; certainly, far behind our contemporaries in numbers; we close it with a list of twenty-five thousand subscribers, and the insurance on every hand that our popularity has as yet seen only its dawning. But if such is the orient, what will our noonday be?” Few can doubt but that this success — unparalleled for those days — was due chiefly to the talents of Edgar Poe. His tales, his essays, and, above all, his undaunted critiques, inaugurated a series of literary and pecuniary triumphs for the magazine and its proprietor, although for the editor — the real creator of this fortunate enterprise — little would seem to have been gained beyond daily bread; and misery and misfortune, although temporarily repulsed, still [page 168:] dogged his steps, ready to make him their prey once more.

Poe’s literary labours for 1842 began with the publication of “Eleanora,” in the Gift for the current year. This tale, so replete with personal revelations, has already been adverted to in connection with the poet’s marriage. In Graham’s for January appeared, besides the last of the “Autography” articles, several reviews, heralded by a vigorous exordium upon the condition of contemporary criticism in America. After condemning anonymous reviewing, the prevalent generalising, and other vicious practices of the critics, Poe argued with Bulwer that the reviewer “must have courage to blame boldly, magnanimity to eschew envy, genius to appreciate, learning to compare, an eye for beauty, an ear for music, and a heart for feeling,” to all of which requirements Poe added, “a talent for analysis, and a solemn indifference to abuse.” In a notice of the “Vicar of Wakefield,” described as one of the most admirable fictions in the language,” some admirable remarks upon the subject of illustrating books are made, and various characteristic utterances — utterances as yet not reproduced-are given, upon Heber, Walpole, “Christopher North,” and other more or less known writers. The February number of the magazine contained an article on Brainard, one of the pioneers of American literature, and a fresh and eulogistic review of ” Barnaby Rudge,” whilst the number for March included, amongst minor notices, analyses of new books by or about Lever, Longfellow, Howitt, and Brougham. In Graham’s for April appeared the tale of ” Life in Death,” or “The Oval Portrait,” as it was subsequently renamed. The thesis of this story [page 169:] is somewhat similar to one of Hawthorne’s “Twice-Told Tales,” and although containing a few Poesque touches, such as the hero’s embarrassment as to the quantity of opium to be eaten, it does not call for extended comment. A far more important contribution to this number was a lengthy review of Longfellow’s ” Ballads,” in the course of which Poe tools occasion to propound his fixed idea that BEAUTY, and Beauty only, should be the theme of Art. If Truth were the chief object, the highest aim of Art, then, as he truly declares, ” Jan Steen was a greater artist than Angelo, and Crabbe is a nobler poet than Milton.” In uttering an earnest protest against those who deem the work should be subservient to its moral, he reproaches his brother poet for the confirmed didacticism of his tone; “that this mode of procedure will find stern defenders,” he says, “should never excite surprise, so long as the world is full to overflowing with cant and conventicles. There are men who will scramble on all fours through the muddiest sloughs of vice to pick up a single apple of virtue.” What may be termed the articles of his artistic creed are simply and severely summed up in these remarks, which will call forth a sympathetic echo in the hearts of all true worshippers of the Beautiful: —

“Now, with as deep a reverence for ‘the true’ as ever inspired the bosom of mortal man, we would limit, in many respects, its modes of inculcation. We would limit to en force them. We would not render them impotent by dissipation. The demands of truth are severe. She has no sympathy with the myrtles. All that is indispensable in song is all with which she has nothing to do. To deck her in gay robes is to render her a harlot. It is but making her a flaunting paradox to wreathe her in gems and flowers. [page 170:] Even in stating this our present proposition, we verify our own words — we feel the necessity, in enforcing this truth, of descending from metaphor. Let us then be simple and distinct. To convey ‘the true’ we are required to dismiss from the attention all inessentials. We must be perspicuous, precise, terse. We need concentration rather than expansion of mind. We must be calm, unimpassioned, unexcited — in a word, we must be in that peculiar mood which, as nearly as possible, is the exact converse of the poetical. He must be blind indeed who cannot perceive the radical and chasmal difference between the truthful and the poetical modes of inculcation. He must be grossly wedded to conventionalisms who, in spite of this difference, shall still attempt to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth. . . .

“We would define in brief the Poetry of words as the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Beyond the limits of Beauty its province does not extend. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it has only collateral relations. It has no dependence, unless incidentally, upon either Duty or Truth. That our definition will necessarily exclude much of what, through a supine toleration, has been hitherto ranked as poetical, is a matter which affords us not even momentary concern. We address but the thoughtful, and heed only their approval — with our own. If our suggestions are truthful, then ‘after many days ’shall they be understood as truth, even though found in contradiction of all that has been hitherto so understood. If false, shall we not be the first to bid them die?”

In summing up his observations upon the aims of true Art, Poe deems that, of the poets who have appeared most fully instinct with the principles he enunciates, Keats should be mentioned as the most remarkable; “he is,” he declares, “the sole British poet who has never erred in his themes. Beauty is always his aim.”

Much as the present, or the forthcoming generation may be inclined to accept these dicta as the veritable [page 171:] gospel of Poesy, they are scarcely likely to have gained Poe much κυδος from the half-educated critics, moral-mongers, and petty poetasters, amid whom he had to earn his daily bread; and their triumph was at band. With this April number of Graham’s, his editorial connection with the magazine ceased, although the following issue contained several book notices from his pen, as well as a characteristic tale, “The Masque of the Red Death” — well named “a Fantasy” by its author. A review of Hawthorne, commenced in this and completed in the next number, contains some noteworthy passages, especially if they be read in the knowledge that they were published when their subject was almost unknown, and yet was then designated by Poe as the highest and most meritorious prose writer of America. He says: —

“The style of Mr. Hawthorne is purity itself. His tone is singularly effective-wild, plaintive, thoughtful, and in full accordance with his themes. We have only to object that there is insufficient diversity in these themes themselves, or rather in their character. His originality both of incident and of reflection is very remarkable; and this trait alone would ensure him at least our warmest regard and commendation. . . . We look upon him as one of the few men of indisputable genius to whom our country has as yet given birth.”

And again, with complete self-abnegation and absence of all jealousy: — “Of Mr. Hawthorne’s Tales we would say, emphatically, that they belong to the highest region of Art — an Art subservient to genius of a very lofty order. We know of few compositions which the critic can more honestly commend than these ‘Twice-Told Tales.’ As Americans, we feel proud of the book.” Another paragraph, in praise [page 172:] of these productions, doubtless, excited a flutter of indignant expostulation from the thousand and one forgotten notorieties who beheld themselves so scornfully overlooked by the critic: — “We have very few American tales of real merit; we may say, indeed, none, with the exception of ‘The Tales of a Traveller’ of Washington Irving, and these ‘Twice-Told Tales’ of Mr. Hawthorne. Some of the pieces of Mr. John Neal abound in vigor and originality; but, in general, his compositions of this class are excessively diffuse, extravagant, and indicative of an imperfect sentiment of Art.”

For months the poet’s story has been little more than a record of his literary labour, but once again his personal history — “unmerciful disaster” — intervenes, and henceforth his career is one of anguish and terror. With the April number, as above stated, Poe’s editorial management of Graham’s Magazine ceased. During the eighteen months that he had directed the destinies of the publication, its circulation had increased from five to fifty-two thousand, and its reputation bad spread even across the Atlantic, English and French literati both contributing to and

drawing allusions from its pages. This being so, and the poet’s régime productive of such brilliant results, why was the connection severed? Mr. Graham, the magazine’s proprietor, says of Poe — and his words prove no quarrel terminated the editorship: — “He had the docility and kind-heartedness of a child. No man was more quickly touched by a kindness, none more prompt to atone for an injury. For three or four years I knew him intimately, and for eighteen months saw him almost daily; much of the time [page 173:] writing or conversing at the same desk; knowing all his hopes, his fears, and little annoyances of life, as well as his high-hearted struggle with adverse fate — yet he was always the same polished gentleman — the quiet, unobtrusive, thoughtful scholar — the devoted husband — frugal in his personal expenses — punctual and unwearied in his industry-and the soul of honour in all his transactions. This, of course, was in his better days, and by them we judge the man. But even after his habits had changed, there was no literary man to whom I would more readily advance money for labour to be done.”

Probably the whole truth as to Poe’s resignation of this editorship will never be known; doubtless, it was due to a combination of causes. There was the constitutional restlessness — the “nervous restlessness — which,” as he acknowledges, “haunted me as a fiend,” and which at times overpowered him, and drove him from place to place in a vain search for the El Dorado of his hopes; there was the ever-lingering desire to found a magazine of his own, and, what must be confessed, the beginning of those “irregularities” which, during the remainder of his life, at certain more or less lengthy intervals, destroyed his hopes and placed his reputation in the power of implacable foes. The origin of this fearsome scourge-which was not the outcome of youthful excesses, as maliciously asserted — is to be traced to the most terrible episode in the unfortunate poet’s career. In a letter to an old and esteemed correspondent, dated January 4, 1848, Poe thus unbosoms himself of his secret — a secret as gruesome as any told of in the most terrible of his tales: — [page 174:]

“You say, ‘Can you hint to me what was the ‘terrible evil’ which caused the ‘irregularities’ so profoundly lamented?’* Yes, I can do more than hint. This ‘evil’ was the greatest which can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured

a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of a year, the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. . . . Then again — again — and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank — God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity. I had, indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure, when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can and do endure as becomes a man. It was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope and despair which I could not longer have endured, without total loss of reason In the death of what was my life, then, I receive a new, but — Oh God! — how melancholy an existence.”

Although the unveiling this terrible mystery in the poet’s life almost resembles sacrilege, it is better that the truth be bared, than that the false impressions — purposely or unintentionally created — should continue as to Poe’s accredited habits of dissipation. No one who really knew the man, either personally or through his works, but will believe him when he asserted, “I have absolutely 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 and [page 175:] reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories.”* Doubtless, there are weighty reasons why this moral cancer, which ate so deeply into the poet’s health and happiness, should have remained unrevealed; but, in this history of his life concealment is as impossible as it is, apparently, needless, — be only has been the sufferer, personally and posthumously.

Previous, however, to Poe’s resignation of the Graham Magazine editorship, the unhappy catastrophe had already happened to his idolised wife, and the hoping against hope, and relapses into fits of maddening despair, had already begun to exert their deleterious effects upon him, causing a gradual but slow deterioration of his whole moral, physical, and intellectual nature. Mr. Graham, in his eloquent defence of the poet against the defamation of Griswold, thus alludes to domestic ties and troubles: —

“I shall never forget how solicitous of the happiness of his wife and mother-in-law he was, whilst one of the editors of Graham’s Magazine; his whole efforts seemed to be to procure the comfort and welfare of his home. Except for their happiness, and the natural ambition of having a magazine of his own, I never heard him deplore the want of wealth. The truth is, he cared little for money, and knew less of its value, for he seemed to have no personal expenses. What he received from me in regular monthly instalments went directly into the hands of his mother-in-law for family comforts; and twice only I remember his purchasing, some rather expensive luxuries for his house, and then [page 176:] he was nervous to the degree of misery until he had, by extra articles, covered what he considered an imprudent indebtedness. His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the spirit of beauty, which he felt was fading before his eyes. I have seen him hovering around her when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first-born — her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a heart chill, that was visible. I rode out one summer evening with them, and the remembrance of his watchful eves, eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain. It was this hourly anticipation of her loss, that made him a sad and thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song.”*

This adoration of and fidelity to his youthful wife is a trait in Poe’s character that no one personally acquainted with the hapless pair ever denied, even the poet’s most inveterate enemies acknowledged the fact. But when he was dead, and helpless to repudiate the slander, persons who assume to have had his confidence, and to have been his friends, yet knew him only in the last moments of his life, declare that the union with Virginia Clenlm was only a marriage of convenience, and that Poe never had any real affection for her. Mrs. Osgood, who, undoubtedly, knew more of the poet’s innermost feelings during the last five years of his life than any person outside his domestic circle, said of his wife, “I believe she was the only woman whom he ever truly loved; and this is evidenced by the exquisite pathos of the little poem lately written, called ‘Annabel Lee,’ of which she was the subject, and which is by far the most natural, simple, tender, and touchingly beautiful of all his songs. I have heard it said that it was intended to [page 177:] illustrate a late love affair of the author; but they who believe this have, in their dulness, evidently misunderstood or missed the beautiful meaning latent in the most lovely of all its verses, where he says, —

‘A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

My beautiful Annabel Lee,

So that her highborn kinsmen came,

And bore her away from me.’

There seems a strange and almost profane disregard of the sacred purity and spiritual tenderness of this delicious ballad, in thus overlooking the allusion to the kindred angels and the heavenly Father of the lost and loved and unforgotten wife.”

The long-tried affection displayed for each other by the poet and Mrs. Clemm was, undoubtedly, the result of the mutual love they bore, and knew each other bore, for the departed Virginia. In the well-known sonnet addressed to his mother-in-law — his “more than mother” — Poe says, in language we hold no evidence to question the truth and earnestness of, —

“My mother — my own mother, who died early,

Was but the mother of myself; but you

Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,

And thus are dearer than the mother I knew

By that infinity with which my wife

Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.”

Mrs. Clemm clung to the poet, and watched waited upon him after her daughter’s death, because she knew how devoted a husband he had been. “It is utterly false,” she asserted at the first promulgation of this slander — lately revived, for easily apparent purposes — “It is utterly false the report of his being faithless or unkind to her (Virginia). He was devoted to her [page 178:] until the last hour of her death, as all our friends can testify. . . . I enclose you two of Eddie’s letters. . . . The other was written at the time you generously offered to take my darling Virginia. I wrote to Eddie asking his advice, and this is his answer. Does the affection then expressed look as if he could ever cease to love her? And he never did.”*

A writer in a New York journal, and, apparently, a personal acquaintance of Poe, says, “It was one of the saddest things in his sad history that the two dearest to him were sharers of his hardships and sufferings — his beautiful young wife and her devoted mother. He married his cousin, who was brought up at the South, and was as unused to toil as she was unfit for it. She hardly looked more than fourteen, fair, soft, and graceful and girlish. Every one who saw her was won by her. Poe was very proud and very fond of her, and used to delight in the round, childlike face and plump little finger, which he contrasted with himself, so thin and half-melancholy looking, and she in turn idolised him. She had a voice of wonderful sweetness, and was an exquisite singer, and in some of their more prosperous days, when they were living in a pretty little rose-covered cottage on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she had her harp and piano.”

At the time to which this writer refers the Poes appear to have resided in Coates Street, Fairmount, whence they removed to North Seven Street, Spring Garden, in the suburbs of the city. Some pleasant reminiscences of the poet and his family, as the household [page 179:] was in this pretty Pennsylvanian home, have been furnished to us by Captain Mayne Reid and others. After describing the charming little suburban dwelling, with its floral bedecked porch, and its tasteful although inexpensive furniture, Captain Reid proceeds to describe its inmates, as he knew them, personally as well as by repute. “Poe,” he says, “I have known for a whole month closeted in his house, all the time hard at work with his pen, poorly paid, and hard driven to keep the wolf from his slightly-fastened door; intruded on only by a few select friends, who always found him, what they knew him to be, a generous host, an affectionate son-in-law and husband, — in short, a respectable gentleman. . . . In the list of literary men there has been no such spiteful biographer as Rufus Griswold, and never such a victim of posthumous spite as poor Edgar Allan Poe.”*

The poet’s wife is referred to by the Captain as, ” A lady angelically beautiful in person, and not less beautiful in spirit. No one who remembers that dark-eyed, dark-haired daughter of Virginia, — her own name — her grace, her facial beauty, her demeanour, so modest as to be remarkable; no one who has ever spent an hour in her company, but will endorse what

I have said. I remember how we, the friends of the poet, used to talk of her high qualities, and when we talked of her beauty, I well knew that the rose-tint upon her cheek was too bright, too pure to be of earth. It was consumption’s colour, that sadly beautiful light that beckons to an early tomb.”

Mrs. Clemm, the poet’s aunt, the mother of his wife, [page 180:] was still the presiding spirit of their little domicile, and of her the Englishman says, “Besides the poet and his interesting wife, there was but one other dweller. It was a woman of middle age and almost masculine aspect. She had the size and figure of a man, with a countenance that, at first sight, seemed scarce feminine. A stranger would have been incredulous, surprised, as I was, when introduced to her as the mother of that angelic creature who had accepted Edgar Poe as the partner of her life. She was the ever vigilant guardian of the house, watching it against the ever silent but continuous sap of necessity, that appeared every clay to be approaching closer and nearer. She was the sole servant, keeping everything clean; the sole messenger, doing the errands, making pilgrimages between the poet and his publishers, frequently bringing back such chilling responses as, ‘The article not accepted,’ or, ‘The cheque not to be given until such and such a day’ — often too late for his necessities.”

Mr. A. B. Harris [[Miss Amanda Bartlett Harris]], the author already quoted from, proceeds to relate of the residence in Spring Garden, that “It was during their stay there that Mrs. Poe, while singing one evening, ruptured a blood-vessel, and after that she suffered a hundred deaths. She could not bear the slightest exposure, and needed the utmost care; and all those conveniences as to apartment and surroundings which are so important in the case of an invalid were almost matters of life and death to her. And yet the room where she lay for weeks, hardly able to breathe, except as she was fanned, was a little place with the ceiling so low over the narrow bed that her head almost touched it. But no one dared to speak, Mr. Poe was so sensitive and [page 181:] irritable; ‘quick as steel and flint,’ said one who knew him in those days. And he would not allow a word about the danger of her dying, the mention of it drove him wild.”

Not only did the mention of the danger of his wife’s death drive Poe wild, but the thoughts of it evidently rendered him unfit for literary work. Unable to provide the comforts needed for her dearest to him, to have to see his anxieties and privations shared by her, drove the poet to the brink of madness. Powerless to provide for the necessities at home, “he would steal out of the house at night,” says Mr. [[Miss]] Harris, “and go off and wander about the streets for hours, proud, heartsick, despairing, not knowing which way to turn, or what to do, while Mrs. Clemm would endure the anxiety at home as long as she could and then start off in search of him.

“So they lived, bound together in tender bonds of love and sorrow — their love making their lot more tolerable — the three clinging to each other; and the mother was the good angel who strove to shield the poet and save him. This way their lives went on in those dark days; he trying desperately at times to earn money, writing a little, and fitfully fighting against himself, sustained only by their solace and sympathy, and by the helping hand of the self-sacrificing mother, who loved him as if he had been, indeed, her own son.”

Unable to secure a certain income by literature — for it must be remembered that even in his best days his receipts were but small, and, at best, chiefly dependent upon the caprice or continuous goodwill of an employer — the unfortunate poet appears to have [page 182:] thought the attainment of a government post would at least secure him from utter dependence. His literary correspondent, Mr. F. W. Thomas, had recently obtained a situation under government, and Poe hoped, through the influence of his various friends and acquaintances, to be able to do the same; at any rate he determined to try, and the following letter to John Neal would appear to refer to this attempt:


“MY DEAR SIR, — As you gave me the first jog in my literary career, you are in a manner bound to protect me and keep me rolling. I therefore now ask you to aid me with your influence in whatever manner your experience shall suggest. It strikes me that I never write to you except to ask a favour, but my friend Thomas will assure you that I bear you always in mind, holding you in the highest respect and esteem. —

Most truly yours, EDGAR A. POE.


Several of the poet’s influential friends were, doubtless, appealed to, and the following extracts have been given by an American journalist as portions of two letters written on the 26th of June and 4th of July respectively to the late F. W. Thomas:*

“Would to God I could do as you have done! Do you seriously think that an application to Tyler would have a good result? My claims, to be sure, are few. I am a Virginian, at least I call myself one, for I have resided all my life, until within the last few years, in Richmond. My political principles have always been, as nearly as may be, with the existing administration, and I battled with right good will for Harrison when opportunity offered. With Mr. Tyler I have some slight personal acquaintance — although this is a matter which he has possibly forgotten. For the [page 183:] rest, I am a literary man, and I see a disposition in Government to cherish letters. Have I any chance?”

Mr. Thomas probably held forth some kind of hope to the distracted poet, as this second communication followed fast upon the above: —

“I wish to God I could visit Washington — but the old story, you know — I have no money — not even enough to take me there, saying nothing of getting back. It is a hard thing to be poor — but as I am kept so by an honest motive, I dare not complain. Your suggestion about Mr. Kennedy is well timed; and here, Thomas, you can do me a true service. Call upon Kennedy — you know him I believe — if not, introduce yourself, he is a perfect gentleman, and will give you a cordial welcome. Speak to him of my wishes, and urge him to see the Secretary of War in my behalf — or one of the other Secretaries, or President Tyler. I mention in particular the Secretary of War, because I have been to W. Point, and thus may stand me in some stead. I would be glad to get almost any appointment — even a $500 one — so that I may have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is to my thinking the hardest task in the world. Mr. Kennedy has been at all times a true friend to me — he was the first true friend I ever had — I am indebted to him for life itself. He will be willing to help me, I know — but needs urging, for he is always head and ears in business. Thomas, may I depend upon you?”

Whether Mr. Thomas found time and inclination to prosecute his friend’s desires or not, is, of course, unknown, but that the — unfortunate poet did not obtain an appointment is but too well known. Could he have procured a permanent government post, it would have lifted him above the most galling petty pecuniary anxieties of the hour, and have left him some leisure, some power, to produce more of his highly-polished and more artistic labours, instead of leaving him to [page 184:] fritter away his genius in hasty and crude work. After Poe’s severance from Graham’s, his wife’s illness, and, during its height, his own inability to ‘Write, are declared to have reduced the little household almost to starvation. “There was then,” says Mr. Harris, “some kind of a society under the care of ladies for helping in a delicate way those who were in need, and would signify it by depositing some articles at the rooms — persons whom common charity could not reach; and to that Mrs. Clemm, the mother, made application. Yet so sensitive and proud was the little family, that it was almost impossible to aid them to any extent, even when they were suffering for the common comforts of life.” Of course these terrible struggles with illness and poverty were not continuous; occasional bursts of hope broke through the clouds of “unmerciful disaster,” and whenever the prospects brightened, the poet plied his pen with renewed vigour. In October, Mr. Graham’s magazine published a critique by Poe on “Rufus Dawes,” one of the forgotten two hundred celebrities of Mr. Griswold’s pantheon. Of him — the then famous now forgotten “poet” — Poe said, “We hesitate not to say that no man in America has been more shamefully over-estimated.” “We say shamefully,” he adds, “for . . . the laudation in this instance, as it stands upon record, must be regarded as a laughable although bitter satire upon the general zeal, accuracy, and independence of that critical spirit which, but a few years ago, pervaded and degraded the land.” After a stringent review of the works of Mr. Dawes, the poet proceeds to remark that that gentleman is known for his amiability and for his many friends, which may have enhanced his literary [page 185:] reputation. “We shall not here insist upon the fact that we,” says Poe, “bear him no personal ill-will. With those who know us, such a declaration ‘Would appear supererogatory; and by those who know us not it would, doubtless, be received with incredulity. What we have said, however, is not in opposition to Mr. Dawes, nor even so much in opposition to the poems of Mr. Dawes, as in defence of the many true souls which, in Mr. Dawes’s apotheosis, are aggrieved. The laudation of the unworthy is to the worthy the most bitter of all wrong. But it is unbecoming in him who merely demonstrates a truth to offer reason or apology for the demonstration.”

These critiques were, of course, continually enlargening the circle of the poet’s foes and shutting him out from publications where, had he been contented to, or, perhaps, permitted by publishers to, have written only tales and poems, his services would have been eagerly sought for. After having been long promised to the reading public as about to write for Snowden’s Lady’s Companion, that journal at last, in October 1842, published “The Landscape Garden,” subsequently enlarged and called “The Domain of Arnheim,” from his admired but dreaded pen. This essay, for it can scarcely be styled a tale, is used as a medium by the poet for the expression of his views on the employment of personal wealth in the pursuit of happiness. As the peg whereon to hang several of his own views of society he selects the common idea — “a grossly exaggerated one,” as he admits — as to the amount of property accumulated in the celebrated Thelluson case, and proceeds to depict the ideas and aims of the presumed inheritor of this immense fortune, [page 186:] this fabled “ninety millions of pounds.” In the contemplation of thus enormous wealth the mind of Edgar Poe could find at once scope for his imagination and solace for his cravings after splendour. The opinions and idiosyncrasies of the hero of the sketch are the barely hidden opinions and idiosyncrasies of the poet himself, and as such are doubly interesting to his readers. A believer in the reality of happiness, although never the possessor of that chimera, he thus discourses on the theme: — “In the brief existence of Ellison I fancy that I have seen refuted the dogma, that in man’s very nature lies some hidden principle, the antagonist of bliss. An anxious examination of his career has given me to understand that, in general, from the violation of a few simple laws of humanity arises the wretchedness of mankind; that as a species we have in our possession the as yet unwrought elements of content; and that, even now, in the present darkness and madness of all thought on the great question of the social condition, it is not impossible that man, the individual, under certain unusual and bighly fortuitous conditions, may be happy.”

To refute this proposition — the premises providing for the indefinite “unusual and highly fortuitous conditions” — may be difficult; but a palpable fallacy appears to lurk in the poet’s further suggestion that “while a high order of genius is necessarily ambitious, the highest is above that which is termed ambition. And may it not thus happen,” he demands, “that many far greater than Milton have contentedly remained mute and inglorious?” “I believe,” is his avowed conclusion, “that the world has never seen — and that, unless through some series of accidents goading the [page 187:] noblest order of mind into distasteful exertion, the world will never see — that full extent of triumphant execution in the richer domains of art, of which the human nature is absolutely capable.” Of course, as in the previous case, the poet has allowed himself a certain loophole of escape, in the apparent fact that the greatest genius being contented to remain unknown, the existence of his superior capability cannot be disproved, but to us it appears self-evident that genius is itself the motive power that impels to production, and the greater the genius the stronger the impulse to produce, irrespective of “distasteful exertion” or impediment.

The elements of happiness, as propounded by the creator of Arnheim’s gorgeous domain, apply more strictly to the seeker after physical rather than mental enjoyment, and his third elementary principle might seem to be contradictory to the fourth; these are his conditions of earthly bliss: — “That which he considered chief was the simple and purely physical one of free exercise in the open air. . . . His second condition was the love of woman. His third, and most difficult of realisation, was the contempt of ambition. His fourth was an object of unceasing pursuit.” That Ellison, or, rather, his alter ego, Poe, should have little or no faith in the possibility of the improvement of the general condition of man, is scarcely surprising, although it hardly accords with the doctrines he is presupposed to have imbibed from Condorcet and other Human Perfectibility advocates. In his proposition that the elements of beauty in art are as certain and as unchangeable, although not so demonstrable, as the rules of mathematics, he will have the credence [page 188:] and sympathy of all his brethren. His suggestion that genius cannot be gained by study of rules, although rules may be adduced from works of genius — that ” we may be instructed to build a ‘Cato’ (i.e., Addison’s), but we are in vain told how to conceive a Parthenon or an ‘Inferno’ ” — is, indeed, little more than a new application of the old adage poeta nascitur non fit. But “The Domain of Arnheim,” apart from any interest it may derive from its author’s personal views, will always charm the intelligent reader by its gorgeous and glowing scenery — the comprehensive realisation of a poet’s vast and most exuberant imagination.

In November Snowden’s Lady’s Companion began the publication of “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” one of the most marvellous examples of Poe’s capability of dealing with, and analysing, the mysteries of the human mind. This tale, which occupied a large portion of three monthly numbers of the journal in which it was first issued, made a profound impression upon the public, not that it was so interesting as a work of art as many of its predecessors from the same pen, but from the fact that it referred to real and widely-known circumstances. To some extent the story is a sequel, or rather sequence, of ” The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and purports to be carried on, so far as the mere spectators of the tragedy are concerned, by the same personages; but whilst that was pure fiction from beginning to end, this recital refers to fact, that is to say, to fact but slightly veiled. The author furnishes the following preliminary words in explanation of the general design of his narrative: —

“A young girl, Mary Cecilia Ropers, was murdered in the vicinity of New York; and although her death [page 189:] occasioned an intense and long-enduring excitement, the mystery attending it had remained unsolved at the period when the present paper was written and published. Herein, under pretence of relating the fate of a Parisian grisette, the author has followed in minute detail the essential, while merely paralleling the inessential, facts of the real murder of Mary Ropers. Thus all argument founded upon the fiction is applicable to the truth; and the investigation of truth was the object. ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’ was composed at a distance from the scene of the atrocity, and with no other means of investigation than the newspapers afforded. Thus much escaped the writer of which he could have availed himself, had he been on the spot, and visited the localities. It may not be improper to record, nevertheless, that the confessions of two persons (one of them the ‘Madame Deluc’ of the narrative), made at different periods, long subsequent to the publication, confirmed in full, not only the general conclusion, but absolutely all the chief hypothetical details by which that conclusion was attained.”

Poe, under the garb of the magazine’s editor, concludes the narrative thus: “For reasons which we shall not specify, but which to many readers will appear obvious, we have taken the liberty of here omitting, from the MSS. placed in our hands [by Mr. Poe], such portion as details the following up of the apparently slight clue obtained “ ‘Latterly it has been the fashion (especially by foreigners) to disbelieve that Marie Roget’s mystery had any real existence, and that the whole recital was the coinage of the poet’s brain, and the notes only appended to give it an air of vraisemblance. [page 190:] Nevertheless, such was not the case; the narrative was founded on fact, although the incidents of the tragedy differed widely from those recounted in the tale. The naval officer implicated was named Spencer. In a letter to a literary friend asking about the omitted portions of the manuscript, above referred to, Poe says, “Nothing was omitted in ‘Marie Roget’ but what I omitted myself — all that is mystification. . . . The ‘naval officer,’ who committed the murder (rather the accidental death arising from an attempt at abortion) confessed it; and the whole matter is now well understood; but, for the sake of relatives, I must not speak further.”

This narrative, or rather this analysis of the Unknown by ratiocination, is, presumedly, based upon the fact that even chance may be made a matter of absolute calculation. The subject was peculiarly suited to the mind of Poe, a mind in which mathematical accuracy was balanced by lofty imagination tinged by superstition. “There are few persons,” he remarks, “even among the calmest thinkers, who have not occasionally been startled into a vague yet thrilling half-credence in the supernatural by coincidences of so seemingly marvellous a character that, as mere coincidences, the intellect has been unable to receive them. Such sentiments — for the half-credences of which I speak have never the full force of thought — such sentiments are seldom thoroughly stifled unless by reference to the doctrine of chance, or, as it is technically termed, the Calculus of Probabilities. Now this calculus is in its essence purely mathematical; and thus we have the anomaly of the most rigidly exact in science applied [page 191:] to the shadow and spirituality of the most intangible in speculation.”

Recurring to this doctrine, he continues: —

“Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of truth, arises from the seemingly irrelevant. It is through the spirit of this principle, if not precisely through its letter, that modern science has resolved to calculate upon the unforeseen. But perhaps you do not comprehend me. The history of human knowledge has so uninterruptedly shown that to collateral, or incidental, or accidental events, we are indebted for the most numerous and most valuable discoveries, that it has at length become necessary, in any prospective view of improvement, to make not only large, but the largest allowances for inventions that shall arise by chance, and quite out of the range of ordinary expectation. It is no longer philosophical to base upon what has been a vision of what is to be. Accident is admitted as a portion of the substructure. We make chance a matter of absolute calculation. We subject the unhooked for and unimagined to the mathematical formulæ, of the schools. I repeat that it is no more than fact that the larger portion of all truth has sprung from the collateral.”

Analogous speculations form the bases of other succeeding stories, such as “The Purloined Letter” and “The Gold Bug,” hereafter to be referred to. There is, however, another reference in “The Mystery of Marie Roget ” to an all-important and but-too-rarely-alluded-to truth, the vital importance of which cannot be overestimated — the effects of which, however, are beheld and experienced much more injuriously in America than in the Old World: —

“We should bear in mind,” is the commentary, “that in general it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation — to make a point — than to further the cause of truth. The latter end is only pursued when it seems coincident with the former. The print which merely falls in [page 192:] with ordinary opinion (however well founded this opinion may be), earns for itself no credit with the mob. The mass of the people regard as profound only him who suggests pungent contradictions of the general idea. In ratiocination, not less than in literature, it is the epigram which is the most immediately and the most universally appreciated. In both it is of the lowest order of merit.”

The Gift for 1843 contained “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a tale of less philosophical value, perhaps, than the class of works just alluded to, but of intense fascination to the general reader. It is founded upon, or rather suggested by, the terrible sufferings of a Spanish refugee, who closed his miserable career amid the company of actors to which Poe’s mother belonged, and it would be interesting to discover hove the story reachedthe poet’s knowledge. The author of this tale of the inquisition’s tortures, reproduces in its earliest sentences somewhat similar psychological fancies to those found in the ” Colloquy of Monos and Una,” but richer in tone and riper in experience. There is a truth and suggestiveness in the following passages which can be recognised and appreciated by many who would fail to grasp the shadowy hints of the earlier work:

“Even in the grave all is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages: first, that of the sense Of mental or spiritual; secondly, that of the sense of physical existence. It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second stage, we could recall the impressions of the first, we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. And that gulf is — what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb? But if [page 193:] the impressions of what I have termed the first stage are not at will recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower; is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never before arrested his attention.

“Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavours to remember, amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed, there have been moments when I have dreamed of success; there have been brief, very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness.”

Another noteworthy point about this story is the artistic accuracy of taste displayed in what may be regarded by some as mere minor details; for instance, instead of a description of the concrete horrors, such as a commonplace mind would have given, of the interior of the pit, the imagination only is appealed to and all its terror is suggested but left untold. What a far finer instinct, and more profound knowledge of art, does this restraint imply, than if the narrator had afforded a circumstantial account of some such loathsome mediæval pit as is the one, for instance, shown at Baden-Baden. The idea of the collapsing chamber, also, unlike in other tales in which that oft-told-of apparatus of torture plays a part, is made subservient to the other purposes of the work, rather than they to it.

Upon leaving Mr. Graham, Poe once more exerted himself towards carrying into execution his life-long scheme of a magazine of his own. He wrote to his [page 194:] friends in various parts of the States, issued prospectuses from time to time, and for a long while did his best, but in vain, to resuscitate his embryo periodical. Ultimately he induced Mr. Thomas C. Clarke, a Philadelphia publisher, and founder and editor of several well-known publications, to join him in his speculation. Poe, as literary and art critic for the Saturday Evening Post — for many years one of the most popular and flourishing journals of its kind in the country — had already afforded Mr. Clarke, who was the proprietor, evidence of his literary and editoral [[editorial]] ability. Accordingly, on January 31, 1843, Mr. Clarke took Edgar Poe into partnership, so far, at least, as the projected periodical was concerned, and issued a prospectus and other publications connected with it signed “Clarke and Poe.” The address to the journals and anticipated contributors, alluding to the prospectus which had already been circulated of the proposed Penn Magazine, stated that that project had been suspended through circumstances of no interest to the public, and that it had now been resumed, under the best auspices, subject only to a change of title. The name given to the stillborn journal had been deemed too local in its suggestions, it was, therefore, proposed to adopt that of The Stylus for the new speculation. Allusion was made to “the general knowledge, on the part of the public,” of Poe’s former connection with the Southern Literary Messenger, and Graham’s Magazine, and such knowledge, it was pre-supposed, obviated the necessity for any very rigid definition of the literary character or aims of the new publication. “In many important points, however,” said Poe, “the new magazine will differ widely from either of those named. It [page 195:] will endeavour to be more varied, more vigorous, more pungent, more original, more individual, and more independent.” Again, referring to the two periodicals with which his connections had been best known, he said: —

“I shall be pardoned for speaking more directly of the two magazines in question. Having in neither of them any proprietary right, the objects of their very worthy owners, too, being in many respects at variance with my own, I found it not only impossible to effect anything on the score of taste for their mechanical or external appearance, but difficult to stamp upon them internally that individuality which I believed essential to their success. In regard to the extensive and permanent influence of such publications, it appears to me that continuity, distinctness, and a marked certainty of purpose, are requisites of vital importance; but attainable only when one mind alone has at least the general direction and control. Experience, to be brief, has shown me that in finding a journal wherein my interest should not be merely editorial, lies my sole chance of carrying out to completion whatever peculiar intentions I may have entertained.”

Despite the wide diffusion of the prospectus contininb these paragraphs, and the exertions of the poet, sufficient number of subscribers to start the projected publication on a sound basis could not be obtained, end the scheme fell through, or, rather, was deferred — or a time. It has been stated that some numbers of The Stylus were, indeed, published; but this assertion, it is believed, was only founded on the fact of a “dummy” copy having been printed as a specimen of what it was intended to offer the public.

Notwithstanding the failure of the magazine project, Mr. Clarke and Poe remained on a very amicable footing, the former doing all his limited powers permitted to befriend the latter, and assist him in his [page 196:] literary plans. In a vindication of the poet from the slanders of his first biographer, Mr. Clarke says, with reference to “Poe and the wife he so tenderly loved . . . I have some singular revelations which throw a strong light on the causes that darkened the life, and made most unhappy the death, of one of the most remarkable of all our literary men.” “During his engagement in my office,” continues this authority, “I published a life of Mr. Poe, with a portrait from a daguerreotype. Both the life and the portrait are utterly unlike the gross caricatures manufactured since his death; . . . the portrait prefixed to a recent volume of Poe’s poems bears no resemblance to the fine, intellectual head of Poe.” “Why,” indignantly demands Mr. Clarke — “why are such wrongs perpetrated upon the dead? why are they permitted?” The life published by Mr. Clarke is stated by Griswold to have been prepared “in Philadelphia, in 1843,” by Poe himself, for a paper called The Museum, and he pretends to quote from it in order to prove that “many parts of it are untrue.” The second paragraph is assumed to be a citation from a letter of Miss Barrett (Mrs. Browning), referring to “The Raven,” a poem not then written, much less published!

During 1843 Poe continued contributing, chiefly critiques, to Graham’s Magazine. Amongst other writings he completed the tale of ” The Gold Bug,” and sold it to Mr. Graham for fifty-two dollars. The Dollar newspaper, a publication edited by N. P. Willis, offering a premium of $100 for the best tale, Poe obtained his manuscript back from Mr. Graham, submitted it to the adjudicators, and, for it, was awarded the prize. The history of this practical illustration [page 197:] of the poet’s cipher theory that human ingenuity cannot construct an enigma human ingenuity cannot resolve, is a further proof of the frequent inability of publishers to gauge the pecuniary value of literary works. In an unpublished letter, Poe, referring to this — in America — most popular of his productions, says, “ ‘The Gold Bug’ was originally sent to Graham; but he not liking it, I got him to take some critical papers instead, and sent it to ‘The Dollar Newspaper,’ which bad offered $100 for the best story. It obtained the premium, and made a Great noise.”

This tale, although founded upon trite and threadbare worn incidents, has an air of freshness and originality from the novelty of the scientific theory by which it is permeated: Poe may not have been the first to discover, but he certainly was the first to popularise, the discovery of the mathematical ratio in which the letters of the alphabet recur. In enshrining this technicality in the story of a hidden treasure, he adopted the very best method of fascinating the attention ” of the greatest number.” In his two favourite and, apparently, contradictory styles of art, simplicity and suggestiveness, this tale is decidedly its author’s chef d’œuvre.

Despite the timely aid of the one hundred dollar prize, Poe’s pecuniary affairs appear to have reached a very trying stage by this period, and nothing but incessant labour enabled him to keep himself and family from utter destitution. For The Pioneer, a monthly magazine edited by Mr. J. R. Lowell, and which Poe says “was an excellent work, but had limited circulation,” he wrote some reviews, [page 198:] of Griswold’s compilations, the of which were subsequently a very including one on one principal paragraphs embodied in an article on the “Rationale of Verse.” During the year he also contributed various critiques to Graham’s Magazine on “Channing” (a nephew of Dr. Channing), “Halleck,” “Cooper,” and other somewhat forgotten celebrities. In his article on Channing Poe thus alluded to Tennyson, a not very “popular” poet at that time: —

“For Tennyson, as for a man imbued with the richest and rarest poetic impulses, we have an admiration — a reverence unbounded. His ‘Morte d’Arthur,’ his ‘Locksley Hall,’ his ’Sleeping Beauty,’ his ‘Lady of Shalott,’ his ‘Lotos Eaters,’ his ‘Œnone,’ and many other poems, are not surpassed, in all that gives to Poetry its distinctive value, by the compositions of any one living or dead. And his leading error — that error which renders him unpopular — a point, to be sure, of no particular importance — that very error, we say, is founded in truth — in a keen perception of the elements of poetic beauty. We allude to his quaintness — to what the world chooses to term his affectation. No true poet — no critic whose approbation is worth even a copy of the volume we now hold in our hand — will deny that he feels impressed, sometimes even to tears, by many of those very affectations which he is impelled by the prejudice of his education, or by the cant of his reason, to condemn. He should thus be led to examine the extent of the one, and to be wary of the deductions of the other. In fact, the profound intuition of Lord Bacon has supplied, in one of his immortal apothegms, the whole philosophy of the point at issue. ‘There is no exquisite beauty,’ he truly says, ‘without some strangeness in its proportions.’ We maintain, then, that Tennyson errs, not in his occasional quaintness, but in its continual and obtrusive excess. And, in accusing Mr. Channing of having been inoculated with virus from Tennyson, we merely mean to say that he has adopted and exaggerated that noble poet’s characteristic defect, having mistaken it for his principal merit!” [page 199:]

The article on “Fitz-Greene Halleck” contained some very pertinent remarks on the adventitious reputations acquired by the pioneers of a country’s literature. “Those rank first who were first known,” declares Poe, adding that among the literary pioneers of America “there is not one whose productions have not been grossly overrated by his countrymen.” Such home truths were scarcely calculated to gain the poet “golden opinions” from his contemporaries, nor increase his popularity with his brother journalists. But he dared all published opinion, and in the very teeth of Cooper’s supreme popularity ventured upon saying, in reviewing one of that author’s forest stories: —

“The interest, as usual, has no reference to plot, of which, indeed, our novelist seems altogether regardless, or incapable, but depends, first, upon the nature of the theme; secondly, upon a Robinson-Crusoe-like detail in its management; and thirdly, upon the frequently repeated portraiture of the half-civilised Indian. In saying that the interest depends, first, upon the nature of the theme, we mean to suggest that this theme — life in the wilderness — is one of intrinsic and universal interest, appealing to the heart of man in all phases; a theme, like that of life upon the ocean, so unfailingly omniprevalent in its power of arresting and absorbing attention, that while success or popularity is, with such a subject, expected as a matter of course, a failure might be properly regarded as conclusive evidence of imbecility on the part of the author. The two theses in question have been handled usque ad nauseam — and this through the instinctive perception of the universal interest which appertains to them. A writer, distrustful of his powers, can scarcely do better than discuss either one or the other. A man of genius will rarely, and should never, undertake either; first, because both are excessively hackneyed; and, secondly, because the reader never fails, in forming his opinion of a book, to make discount, either wittingly or unwittingly, for that intrinsic interest which is inseparable from the subject and independent of [page 200:] the manner in which it is treated. Very few, and very dull indeed, are those who do not instantaneously perceive the distinction; and thus there are two great classes of fictions — a popular and widely-circulated class, read with pleasure, but without admiration — in which the author is lost or forgotten; or remembered, if at all, with something very nearly akin to contempt; and then, a class, not so popular, nor so widely diffused, in which, at every paragraph, arises a distinctive and highly pleasurable interest, springing from our perception and appreciation of the skill employed, or the genius evinced in the composition. After perusal of the one class, we think solely of the book; after reading the other, chiefly of the author. The former class leads to popularity; the latter to fame. In the former case, the books sometimes live, while the authors usually die; in the latter, even when the works perish, the man survives. Among American writers of the less generally circulated, but more worthy and more artistic fictions, we may mention Mr. Brockden Brown, Mr. John Neal, Mr. Simms, Mr. Hawthorne; at the head of the more popular division we may place Mr. Cooper.”

These caustic critiques notwithstanding, Poe’s literary labours for 1843 and the following year, taken altogether, were poorer in quality and quantity, and, doubtless, in remuneration, than in any succeeding, or preceding, year since his first adoption of literature as a profession. But these years were, it must be remembered, those in which the poet was first awakened to the fell certainty of his darling wife’s mortal illness — the dreadful years in which he first really succumbed to the temptations of temporary oblivion proffered by drugs and stimulants.

In speaking of the “quantity” of his writings referable to this melancholy epoch of the poet’s career, original matter only must be considered as alluded to. In his mental incapacity to produce anything of his own, Poe appears to have resorted to translating from [page 201:] the French. From April 1843, until the beginning of 1845, a constant, an almost weekly, supply of translated tales and sketches appear over his initials in the pages of the New York New Mirror, and its successor, the Evening Mirror. This bread-and-butter work, executed under high pressure, must have been a most terrible infliction for Poe’s morbidly sensitive temperament, and, despite the few reviews taken by Graham’s, have barely sufficed to maintain the unfortunate man and his household above veritable starvation. Among the various schemes he endeavoured to plan during his leisure — his lucid — intervals, was the republication of his tales in periodic parts, but we have no evidence that anything more appeared than number one of ” The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe,” containing ” The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and ” The Man that was Used Up.”

In the winter of 1843, he delivered a lecture at the “William Wirt” Institution, on the “Poets and Poetry of America,” and, in the course of the evening, took occasion to deliver some very severe remarks upon Mr. Griswold’s compilation, recently published under a title similar to that given by Poe to his discourse. This trenchant attack upon the new and much belauded volume created no little excitement at the time in the literary coteries of Philadelphia, and by the book’s compiler was never forgiven, and was terribly avenged. Mr. Griswold, it should be mentioned, for a short time occupied the editorial chair in Mr. Graham’s publishing office which Poe had vacated. To the March number of Graham’s Magazine Poe contributed a lengthy and appreciative review of Horne’s magnificent epic, “Onion.” Criticism was scarcely the [page 202:] poet’s forte; and although the instincts of his own genius invariably prompted him to recognise and acknowledge the productions of kindred spirits, his critiques more closely resemble the unravelling an intricate riddle, than the sympathetic or antipathetic discussion of a propounded subject. And yet when we peruse Poe’s definition of the rules of Art — as furnished by Nature — we cannot refuse to acknowledge their truth. Some of his more remarkable utterances in this review of “Orion,” as embodying the theories he believed, and strove to follow out in poesy, may be reproduced here: —

“Although we agree, for example, with Coleridge, that poetry and passion are discordant, yet we are willing to permit Tennyson to bring to the intense passion which prompted his ‘Locksley Hall,’ the aid of that terseness and pungency which are derivable from rhythm and from rhyme. The effect he produces, however, is a purely passionate, and not, unless in detached passages of this magnificent philippic, a properly poetic effect. His ‘Œnone,’ on the other hand, exalts the soul not into passion, but into a conception of pure beauty, which in its elevation — its calm and intense rapture — has in it a foreshadowing of the future and spiritual life, and as far transcends earthly passion as the holy radiance of the sun does the glimmering and feeble phosphorescence of the glow worm. His ’ Morte d’Arthur’ is in the same majestic vein. The ’Sensitive Plant’ of Shelley is in the same sublime spirit. Nor, if the passionate poems of Byron excite more intensely a greater number of readers than either the ‘Œnone,’ or the ’Sensitive Plant,’ does this indisputable fact prove anything more than that the majority of mankind are more susceptible of the impulses of passion than of the impressions of beauty? Readers do exist, however, and always will exist, who, to hearts of maddening fervour, unite in perfection the sentiment of the beautiful — that divine sixth sense which is yet so faintly understood — that sense which phrenology has attempted to embody in its organ of ideality — that sense which [page 203:] is the basis of all Cousin’s dreams — that sense which speaks of GOD through His purest, if not His sole attribute — which proves, and which alone proves His existence.

“To readers such as these — and only to such as these — must be left the decision of what the true Poesy is. And these — with no hesitation — will decide that the origin of Poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder Beauty than Earth supplies — that Poetry itself is the imperfect effort to quench this immortal thirst by novel combinations of beautiful forms (collocations of forms, physical or spiritual, and that this thirst when even partially allayed — this sentiment when even feebly meeting response — produces emotion to which all other human emotions are vapid and insignificant.

“We shall now be fully understood. If, with Coleridge, and, however erring at times, his was precisely the mind fitted to decide a question such as this — if, with him, we reject passion from the true — from the pure poetry — if we reject even passion — if we discard as feeble, as unworthy the high spirituality of the theme (which has its origin in a sense of the Godhead), if we dismiss even the nearly divine emotion of human love — that emotion which, merely to name, causes the pen to tremble — with how much greater reason shall we dismiss all else? And yet there are men who would mingle with the august theme the merest questions of expediency — the cant topics of the day — the doggerel æsthetics of the time — who would trammel the soul in its flight to an ideal Ifelusion, by the quirks and quibbles of chopped logic. There are men who do this — lately there are a set of men who make a practice of doing this — and who defend it on the score of the advancement of what they suppose to be truth. Truth is, in its own essence, sublime; but her loftiest sublimity, as derived from man’s clouded and erratic reason, is valuelessis pulseless — is utterly ineffective when brought into comparison with the unerring sense of which we speak; yet grant this truth to be all which its seekers and worshippers pretend — they forget that it is not truth, per se, which is made their thesis, but an argumentation, often maudlin and pedantic, always shallow and unsatisfactory (as from the mere inadaptation of the vehicle it must be) by which this truth, in casual Mid indeterminate glimpses, is, or is not, rendered manifest.” [page 204:]

After pointing out the matters in which he deemed Horne had departed from the proper standard — the standard which he, Poe, assumed to be the true one — he concluded by acknowledging that “Orion” “will be admitted by every man of genius to be one of the noblest, if not the very noblest, poetical works of the age. Its defects are trivial and conventional; its beauties intrinsic and supreme.”

Consequent, apparently, upon this critique, some correspondence took place between the two poets. ” During a certain period of Poe’s* troubled circumstances,” writes Horne, “he wrote to me, I being then in London, and inclosed a manuscript, saying that he had singled me out, though personally a stranger, to ask the friendly service of handing a certain story to the editor of one of the magazines, with a view, of course, to some remittance. Without waiting to read the story I replied at once that I considered his application to me a great compliment, and that I would certainly do the best I could in the business. But when I read the story, my heart of hope sank within me: it was ‘The Spectacles.’ I tried several magazines, not an editor would touch it. In vain I represented the remarkable tact with which the old lady, under the very trying task she had set herself, did, nevertheless, maintain her female delicacy and dignity. I met with nothing beyond a deaf ear, an uplifted eyebrow, or the ejaculations of a gentleman pretending to feel quite shocked. It may be that false modesty, and social, as well as religious, hypocrisy, are the concomitant and counterpart of our present equivocal [page 205:] state of civilisation; but if I were not an Englishman, it is more than probable I should say that those qualities were more glaringly conspicuous in England than in any other country.” No comment is needed here upon the fact that any imagination could be discovered so ultraprurient, and utterly ridiculous, as to perceive anything contrary to the most rigid and puritanic delicacy in the playful, but not very powerful, badinage of “The Spectacles.”

One day in April of this year, 1844, the good folks of New York were startled by a jeu d‘esprit, or hoax, on the subject of Ballooning, and Poe was the author. The Sun, in which this amusing sally appeared, had already a reputation for information not elsewhere obtainable, in consequence of its publication of the notorious “Moon Hoax” article,* when one morning its readers — and their number increased that day with much celerity — were astounded by reading the following wonderful communication: —





Arrival at Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, S.C., of Mr. Mason, Mr. Robert Holland, Mr. Henson, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, and four others, in the Steering Balloon, Victoria,’ after a passage of seventy-five hours from Land to Land! Full Particulars of the Voyage!

This wonderful record of unparalleled adventure Is originally published, as its concocter, indeed, confessed “with the preceding heading in magnificent capitals, well interspersed with notes of admiration, [page 206:] a matter of fact, in the New York Sun, a daily newspaper, and therein fully subserved the purpose of creating indigestible aliment for the quidnuncs during the few hours intervening between a couple of the Charleston mails. The rush for the ’sole paper which had the news’ was something beyond even the prodigious; and, in fact, if (as some assert) the ‘Victoria’ did not absolutely accomplish the voyage recorded, it will be difficult to assign a reason why she should not have accomplished it.”

As a jeu d‘esprit, this trick on public credulity was a splendid success, but such jests are scarcely the class of productions one would desire to obtain from a poetic genius. Doubtless, for the immediate needs of the hour, these clever impositions paid their author much better than did the best of his poems, whilst they also furnished more ample food for his cravings for reputation, and his insatiable love of hoaxing. Poe’s readers and admirers must, in point of fact, always be upon their guard against his inveterate habit of attempting to gauge their gullibility; his passion for this propensity frequently led him into indulging in the practice when least expected-into giving way to the desire of befooling his readers when apparently most in earnest.

In the same month as “The Balloon Hoax,” Godey published in his Lady’s Book, a literary magazine of Philadelphia, “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.” It was one of its author’s favourite stories, and the scene of it is laid in the vicinity where his college days were spent, that is to say, in the neighbourhood of Charlottesville. Taken in connection with mesmeric theories — and at this period Poe appears to have been investigating such theories with the most steadfast [page 207:] interest — this tale is a singular manifestation, but, beyond some Poësque traits of thought and diction, contains nothing very remarkable. The Death Fetch, Doppelgänger, and similar dual creations of superstition have always been numerous enough in literature, and this revivification, although treated in a suggestively original manner, calls for no lengthy comment. Perhaps, when Poe’s own habits are considered, and his love of mystification fully allowed for, the most interesting passages in the tale will be found in these allusions to its hero’s use of drugs: — “His imagination was singularly vigorous and creative; and no doubt it derived additional force from the habitual use of morphine, which he swallowed in great quantity, and without which he would have found it impossible to exist. It was his practice to take a very large dose of it immediately after breakfast each morning or rather, immediately after a cup of strong coffee, for he ate nothing in the forenoon — and then set forth alone, or attended only by a dog, upon a long ramble. . . . In the meantime,” that is to say, after some hours walking, “the morphine had its customary effect — that of enduing all the external world with an intensity of interest. In the quivering of a leaf — in the hue of a blade of grass — in the shape of a trefoil — in the humming of a bee — in the gleaming of a dewdrop — in the breathing of the wind — in the faint odours that came from the forest — there came a whole universe of suggestion — a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought.”

Scarcely any original composition is again discernible until the end of the year. A review, already alluded to, in The Pioneer, and the quaintly beautiful [page 208:] verses, “Dreamland,” published in the June number of Graham’s, are all we can trace before the following September. The poem is replete with words — thoughts — expressions — that have appeared again, and again, in others of their author’s poems, but is, nevertheless, most idiosyncratic and original. Those who have thus far followed Poe’s “route, obscure and lonely,” need not ask who is “the traveller” that

“Meets aghast

Sheeted Memories of the Past —

Shrouded forms that start and sigh

As they pass the wanderer by —

White-robed forms of friends long given,

In agony, to the Earth — and Heaven.”

“The Oblong Box” appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book for September. It is a tale of no particular merit, for Poe, and is chiefly remarkable for some somewhat curious mental analyses. In this same month the New Mirror perished, and with it, of course, the unfortunate poet’s chief, although slender, source of livelihood. Thoroughly adrift, something decided had now to be done, and done at once. A living was not to be had, apparently, from literature in Philadelphia, and the conclusion was arrived at, probably through some intimation from Willis, to seek New York once more.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 174:]

*  Vide the Reply to Thomas Dunn English, p[[.]] 81, vol. ii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 175:]

*  Letter to Mrs. S. H. Whitman.

  R. W. Griswold was an employé of Mr. Graham, and, it is alleged was dismissed for dishonesty. Thackeray, when in America, detected him in deliberate lying, and it was through his falsehoods that Messrs Harper & Brothers had to pay Charles Dickens a larger sum that anticipated for “advance sheets” of “Bleak House.” — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 176:]

*  Graham’s Magazine, March 1850.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 178:]

*  Letter from Maria Clemmn to Neilson Poe, August 26, 1860.

  A. B. Harris, in Hearth and Home, 1870. [[Amanda Bartlett Harris, “Edgar A. Poe,” Hearth and Home (New York), vol. 8, January 9, 1875, p. 24.]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 179:]

*  “A Dead Man Defended,” in Onward for April 1869.

  Virginia Poe was a native of Maryland. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 182:]

*  “Memoir of Edgar Allan Poe,” by R. H. Stoddard, pp. 66-69.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 204:]

*  Edgar Allan Poe. A Memorial Volume. Baltimore, 1877, pp. 82, 83.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 205:]

*  Vide pp. 97-200.





[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 13)